Red Devils clinch spot in World Cup quarter-finals
In World Cup’s most dramatic match so far, Belgium came back from two down to beat Japan in the final minutes
Show-down with Brazil on Friday
Belgium had been tipped to topple Japan handily, but in a hot and humid Rostov-on-Don, they were forced to recover from 0-2 down. As the 2018 competition in Russia proves, there is no easy way to win the World Cup.
After a goalless first half in which Japan defended deeply, passed confidently and showed no fear against their superstar opposition, a frustrated Belgium was unable to convert any of its set pieces.
Then Japan jumped into the lead three minutes into the second half, followed by a well-placed strike five minutes later, and the favourites were facing a potentially humiliating defeat.
Subs save the day
The Red Devils were forced to dig deep, and manager Roberto Martinez finally replaced a weary Yannick Carrasco and Dries Mertens with Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli.
With some energy injected into the chaotic play, defender Jan Vertonghen headed a long ball, which sunk deep into the right-hand side of the net. It spurred on the team and supporters, and when Fellaini equalised for Belgium in the 74th minute, the Devils smelt blood.
With four minutes stoppage time, the match was looking doomed to go into extra time, when Chadli sealed a swift break in the final seconds of play. While there was a tangible sense of relief and a subdued celebration among the players, the crowds of fans both in Russia and Belgium showed no such reserve.
Friday’s match against Brazil is at 20.00 local time and can be seen on Een.
Photo: Nacer Chadli (left) scored the goal that sent Japan home in a nail-biting World Cup match