A stoppage-time goal by Nacer Chadli secured a precious win and an incredible comeback for Belgium against Japan, meaning the Red Devils are through to the quarterfinal and a date with Brazil.
Thanks to Nacer Chadli's stoppage-time winner, Belgium came back from a 2-0 deficit and defeated Japan 3-2 in an enthralling World Cup round-of-16 clash.
For the majority of the game, the Red Devils were second best, as Japan fought valiantly against Roberto Martinez's talented side, taking a 2-0 lead on Takashi Inui's stunning goal in the 52nd minute. But once Jan Vertonghen scored the first goal to reduce the deficit on a looping header in the 69th minute, Belgium finally woke up. Marouane Fellaini pulled Belgium even five minutes later, and Chadli scored on a clinical break following a Japan corner kick to seal the winner at the death.
Japan started the match with an intent to push and press high, hoping to catch Belgium off guard and disrupt its rhythm. The midfield was especially congested as Akira Nishino's frustrated playmakers such as Kevin De Bruyne. But after 10 minutes, Belgium began to feel momentum against its physical opponent.
In the 15th minute, Axel Witsel attempted a long shot from far out, but it only resulted in a corner, which was easily cleared. Japan was beginning to make mistakes in its own half, offering plenty of chances for the Red Devils but the Asian side was placing enough men in the box to block any half decent attempts.
After 20 minutes it was all Belgium as Romelu Lukaku found himself in the box but a desperate clearance kept it 0-0.
Moments later, Eden Hazard, who was Belgium's best player in the first half, took a great shot from far, which was then saved by Eiji Kawashima. Regardless, it was all Belgium as Japan held on.
Japan had a fantastic opportunity on the counter when a shot was taken in the box but it went straight into the hands of Thibaut Courtois. The stopper was lucky enough he didn't commit a laughable mistake when he picked up the ball. The first half ended 0-0.
The second half brought the shock, as Japan struck first. Genki Haraguchi made it 1-0 thanks to a fantastic counter due to some sloppy defending by Vertonghen, who was punished for his efforts.
Moments later, Belgium had not shaken off the first goal as some weak defending and a fantastic goal from Inui secured a two-goal cushion. Belgium was now shaking, knowing it needed to do way more to go through.
In the 61st minute, Lukaku had a great chance to reduce the deficit thanks to a cross from the right hand side but the Man United striker could not connect and another chance went begging. Japan, however, was not backing down as once again, a counter attacking play saw the Asian team coming from the right wing, but the cross was cleared away.
In the 68th minute, Yoshida performed a fantastic defensive challenge to deny Lukaku in the box. But finally, Belgium pulled one back, as Vertonghen's headed cross into the box found the back of the net to make it 2-1.
Moments later, Martinez's side tied it 2-2 as Fellaini's poweful header equalized. Finally, the Red Devils started to play and show their ability.
With less than 10 minutes to go, both teams were not backing off, clearly looking for the winner in regular time. In the 85th minute, Kawashima made two incredible stops to keep it 2-2. It was another fantastic performance from the Japanese stopper in a World Cup full of them.
Japan won a corner in the 90th minute after a Keisuke Honda free kick was parried out of play by Courtois, but that wound up setting up Belgium–not Japan–for the winner. Courtois rolled the ball out to De Bruyne, who broke away in the midfield. He passed out wide to Thomas Meunier, who crossed into the box. Lukaku expertly dummied the ball, allowing it to roll to Chadli, who fired home the winner in the dying seconds..
Both sides were left in disbelief, but it's Belgium moving on to face Brazil, a winner over Mexico earlier on Monday, in the quarterfinal.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona)
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), Youri Tielemans (Monaco), Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian)
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Metz), Masaaki Higashiguchi (Gamba Osaka), Kosuke Nakamura (Kashiwa Reysol)
Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Reds), Wataru Endo (Urawa Reds), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Gotoku Sakai (Hamburg), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Naomichi Ueda (Kashima Antlers)
Midfielders: Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Keisuke Honda (Pachuca), Takashi Inui (Eibar), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Takashi Usami (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Gaku Shibasaki (Getafe), Ryota Oshima (Kawasaki Frontale)
Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Leicester), Yuya Osako (Werder Bremen), Yoshinori Muto (Mainz)
Manager: Akira Nishino