Belgium qualified for the World Cup quarter finals in the most dramatic fashion after beating Japan 3-2 with just seconds to go in the match last night.
Interestingly, Japanese coach Akira Nishino made a huge gamble, resting some of his players in their last match against Poland so he could better prepare his team for the must-win knockout meeting with Belgium. Belgium had most of the possession in the first half which forced Japan into a defensive position with little chance to press for a goal. Belgium were unable to put any away either, but it seems Japan were happy enough going into the break with goalless draw.
Just minutes into the second half, a swift counter attack by Japan saw Haraguchi go one on one with Courtois and sent the ball into the far-left corner to put Japan ahead. Belgium replied with curling shot from Hazzard which hit the post, but this spurred Japan to bag their second goal six minutes later when Inui struck the ball into the bottom right corner out of Courtois’ reach. Ten minutes later Japan nearly make it 3-0 and this forced Belgian coach Martinez to make fundamental changes. He made two pivotal substitutions, bringing on Chadli and Fellaini for Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco.
This was the turning point for Belgium and Japan started to make mistakes. A grave error by Eiji Kawashima gave Belgium their first goal of the game when Vertonghen looped a header over the keeper who was way off his line after a failed attempt to clear a corner. Within five minutes a newly emboldened Belgium scored the equalizer after Fellaini headed it home from a beautiful cross from Eden Hazzard. The drama continued, Belgium nearly went ahead in the 85th minute but for a fantastic save by Kawashima. Japan replied probing into the Belgian half, Honda crosses and Witsel nearly turns it inside his near post, forcing Courtois into a sharp save. The score was still level going into stoppage time and this was truly a fight to the death. Japan were awarded a free kick from a long way out with Honda taking a punt giving Japan a corner. Courtois responded with ease sending the ball back to De Bruyne who plays it to Meunier on the right. Lukaku dummies a low cross leaving it for Chadli to strike it into the far post. Agony for Japan but redemption for Belgium.
Belgium now have a mammoth task when they meet Brazil in the quarter finals on Friday 6th July.