Belgium secured a ticket to the World Cup quarter-finals with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over Japan on Tuesday morning.
The Red Devils found themselves going behind three minutes into the second half, when a deep pass from Gaku Shibasaki forced a poor clearance from Jan Vertonghen, allowing Genki Haraguchi to finish the attack off and give Japan the lead.
Akira Nishino‘s men doubled their advantage two minutes later through a Takashi Inui shot that blasted past Thibaut Courtois and put the Samurai Blue one foot into the last eight. But Belgium retaliated strong and pulled a goal back in the 69th minute through Vertonghen’s header, before Marouane Fellaini levelled the scores four minutes later.
The Belgians eventually snatched victory in the third minute of stoppage time, with Nacer Chadli capping a wonderful counter-attack by netting to break the hearts of Japan.
Martinez tactical masterclass pulled Belgium back
Coming back from two goals down with less than 30 minutes to play is always a big ask for any side and Belgium was up against it when they had to do just that to keep their World Cup campaign alive. But the Europeans lifted to the occasion wonderfully, shifting into another gear as they pulled back two quick goals of their own, before snatching a dramatic win to book their second consecutive quarter-finals ticket. Recognition must go to the fantastic tactical performance from Roberto Martinez, however, with the former Everton manager on the top of his game in the second half, pulling Fellaini into the match to anchor the midfield and forcing Chadli out wide to keep Japan’s attacks minimal – allowing Belgium more time with the ball, which they made the most of in the game’s dying moments.
Japan highlights Belgium’s weakness
Despite Martinez’s tactical success in the final third of the match, Japan has successfully managed to show the world Belgium’s Achilles heel. The Asian side did wonderfully to exploit the space the Red Devils defence has been showing all tournament, allowing for a potentially deadly counter any time the Europeans made a mistake. It was this exploitation that led to Japan scoring twice and putting Belgium under pressure for the first time in Russia. Defensive issues have always been an iconic part of Martinez sides and it appears that Belgium could have a very tough time against Brazil if they do not tighten up in defence, as the five-time world champions will not be so forgiving.
Samurai Blue go out with heads held high
With many pundits and media writing off Japan’s chances heading into this World Cup, the Asian side ended up leaving Russia with a fantastic campaign under their belts, having pushed themselves out of a tough group with a gritty win over Colombia and a point against Senegal – to going out in heart-breaking fashion against a Belgium outfit many predicted would put four or five goals past them. Akira Nishino’s side has been one of the surprises of this World Cup and despite blowing a two-goal lead, they can be extremely proud of how their campaign turned out. As their heads now turn towards 2022, Japan will be interesting to follow as much of their squad is like to step away from the national side due to age, but this run has shown that Japan can match it with some of the world’s best and that is reason enough to be proud.