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Last-gasp goal sends Belgium to last eight    

ROSTOV-ON-DON Russia (Xinhua) -- Belgium staged a comeback at the Rostov Arena on Monday evening when two goals trailed behind Japan, sealing the victory with a last-gasp goal which sent them to the last eight.

Japan, who led for more than 20 minutes, was persistent and went very close to making history by winning their first ever World Cup knockout game.

This is the first time a team who had been trailing 2-0 won the last 16 clash since 1970, with two substitutes saved the most prolific team in group stage.

The goal was crisp and the process fluent. The goalkeeper of Belgium Thibaut Courtois threw the ball to Kevin De Bruyne, who dribbled all the way to the Japanese half before passing to Thomas Meunier on the right. The defender from Paris Saint-Germain sent a low cross. Romelu Lukaku dummied while Nacer Chadli prodded the ball in.

The goal drew deafening cheers from more than 41,400 spectators, and then the finishing whistle signaled an end of the intensive match.

Chadli was summoned from the bench after the stroke of an hour along with Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini.

The Japanese took the lead quickly after the beginning of the second half as a result of counterattack.

Tottenham Hotspur defender Jan Vertonghen failed to block a pass from the distance to Genki Haraguchi, who drove the ball into the bottom corner.

The only remaining Asian team soon doubled the advantage four minutes later, Shinji Kagawa, midfielder in Borussia Dortmund, delivered the ball to Takashi Inui, with the latter lashing it into the far corner from about 20 meters away.

They nearly had a third goal before substitutions from Belgium, which was cleared by Courtois from close range.

The Red Devils looked shambolic for a moment, but the redeeming Vertonghen once more rekindle hope in the 69th minute. From the left of the box he nodded at the ball, seeing it fly past goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima into the far top corner.

The thrilled Belgians mustered up their efforts. Four minutes later, they had a shot over the bar.

When people felt a pity for the miss, the real leveler came. Captain Eden Hazard who has scored two goals in previous games clipped the ball to Fellaini, who comfortably drove in the header.

As time passing by, they grew into the game.

Chadli, receiving from Meunier, attempted another header, while Lukaku followed, forcing Kawashima into a double-save.

The Japanese missed a potential finisher in stoppage time, a dropping free-kick by Keisuke Honda from more than 36 meters away. Courtois made a brave save.

A few minutes later, however, Belgium proved that they were still unbeaten in all their games, along with Croatia and Uruguay.

Nobody was able to break the deadlock in the first half, although both had some very good chances.

The Japanese had their first shot immediately after the opening whistle from Kagawa.

Then the Belgians took a temporary control of the tempo. Following Axel Witsel’s a deflected shot in the 16th minute came a corner. Hazard drove it to the middle but strong defense of the Japanese forced him to give up.

A great chance came before the half-hour mark, when Lukaku, who has scored 17 in his last 11 games, received a cross from Dries Mertens on the right. But he fell off. The net, for a few seconds, were unguarded, but nobody managed to send the ball in.

Although Belgium blew away a couple of chances, they reached the quarter-final for the third time, and will face Brazil who just beat Mexico.

“If you look at the stats there are not many games where you can come back from 2-0 down at a World Cup,” said Belgium’s coach Roberto Martinez. In fact, it happened only six times in history. The last time was in 1970 when the Federal Republic of Germany won over England 3-2.

“The reality is we went 2-0 down and you have to find solutions, you have to find a reaction, but what you need more than anything is the desire and togetherness of a group of players who are desperate to perform,” Martinez said. “I think this is down to the personality, to the focus, to the desire, to the never-give-up attitude of the players and almost the belief of the players when the came on. Doing it within the 90 minutes was an incredible achievement.”

Hazard was later named as Man of the Match. “We were thinking it was going to be like two years ago against Wales [at UEFA EURO 2016], but we were also thinking if we can score goals the game is on,” he said. “We have players that can change a game, we brought players from the bench who made the difference, so today we are just happy to have won and have gone through to the quarterfinals.

“When it comes to the match on Friday, it is going to be magnificent because playing against Brazil is always amazing as a football player. We are going to rest really well and going to really try to win that match,” he said.

“Four years ago, in Brazil we did not make it to the round of 16 and the whole of Japanese football remembered how we lost against Colombia in the third match,” said the crestfallen Japanese coach Akira Nishino. “For the last four years we have been training hard and of course we faced Colombia in the first match. We were all determined to take revenge.”

“And about eight years ago, in the round of 16, we went to extra-time and penalties, where we lost, therefore we were determined to go through to the next stage,” he said.

Japan, as the first team to reach the last 16 by having a better disciplinary record, had been criticized for having played in a farcical way in their third-round group match against Poland. The coach vowed to play a brilliant game against Belgium and so the team did.

“I wanted our team to have a different mentality to the ones we have had in the past and I think we succeeded in that. But maybe there was still something missing, so four years from now we would like to come back,” Nishino said.

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