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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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
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
“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.