Belgium survived a major scare, upturning a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2, with the winning goal coming in the deep into added time.
Belgium dominated from start and fashioned out several opportunities to take the lead under in the first half hour. Lukaku evaded the attention of Yoshida to get on Mertens’ quick cross, but the striker’s control let him down and the goalkeeper gathered, while Eden Hazard’s well-drilled shot was punched away, and Kompany could not convert Kevin De Bruyne’s cross at the far post.
For all their dominance, Belgium almost went behind on 31 minutes against the run of play, but Takashi Inui’s tame header was held by Cortouis. Belgium continued to dominate but they could not break down a stubborn Japanese defence, while their narrow midfield stayed glued to De Bruyne. The Samurai blue finished the half strong and were almost gifted a goal by the keeper, Cortouis, who let the ball slip through his gloves but the Chelsea man recovered to avoid an embarrassment.
Japan went ahead early in the second half through Ginki Haraguchi from a swift counter-attack on 48 minutes. Gaku Shibasaki’s through ball from deep squeezed past Jan Vertonghen’s and Haraguchi took a touch before finding the bottom corner for a surprise lead.
The Red Devils responded immediately with a Hazard curling shot hitting the post, but they went further behind four minutes later through the deadly Inui from another counter. Shinji Kagawa dazzled Axel Witsel with his nice touches and teed up Spain-based striker, Inui, who controlled before hitting a sensational strike from outside the area which waltzed beyond Courtois for a well deserved 2-0 lead.
Lukaku should have halved the deficit on 61 minutes with a free header from three yards out but he headed wide. Belgium eventually did through Vertonghen on 69 minutes. The defender, who was at fault for Japan’s opener, saw his looping header nestle beyond Kawashima. The contest was levelled five minutes later via another header from substitute, Marouane Fellaini. Captain fantastic, Hazard, brilliantly evaded the attention of a defender before delivering a pin-point cross for Fellaini to make it 2-2.
Kawashima’s double save denied Belgium a winner on 85 minutes, saving headers from both Nacer Chadli and Lukaku seconds apart.
It was heartbreak in added time as Japan paid the price of attacking in added time against an attack-minded Belgium who countered to score the winning goal in the last minute of added time. Keisuke Honda’s 40-yard free-kick was diverted for a corner by Courtois, and from the corner kick, Belgium counter attacked to devastating effect. Courtois found De Bruyne who finally had space to operate. The Man City playmaker found Meunier who’s cross was dummied by Lukaku for the onrushing Chadli to convert for a 3-2 win to Belgium who became the second team to come back from two-goals down to win a World Cup match after West Germany did against England in 1970. Belgium will face another bookmakers’ favourite, Brazil, in the quarterfinal as this golden generation continue their quest for a surprise World Cup triumph in a tournament that has been all about surprises.