Belgium Comeback Sinks Japan

Two players compete for ball

Belgium staged a remarkable fightback as they came from two goals down to beat Japan 3-2 at the Rostov Arena on Monday to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals.

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Japan spent much of the first half defending, but they had two early attempts at goal from distance, with Shinji Kagawa shooting wide of the right post in the opening minute, before Gen Shoji skied an ambitious effort from a long way out on 10 minutes.

Belgium saw plenty of the ball and created the better chances, but found the opposition hard to break down. Axel Witsel saw his shot from 20 yards out deflected just over the crossbar on 16 minutes, while Vincent Kompany tamely volleyed wide at the back post under pressure from Yuya Osako following an 18th-minute corner.

Yuto Nagatomo threw himself at Romelu Lukaku's strike from the edge of the box to make a vital block on 21 minutes, and the Manchester United striker was denied by Maya Yoshida four minutes later when Dries Mertens' cross from the right dropped at his feet.

Eiji Kawashima was called into action for the first time on 27 minutes as he fisted away Eden Hazard's stinging shot from inside the area on the left, while at the other end Inui directed a header straight at Thibaut Courtois from Nagatomo's cross on the left four minutes later.

Both teams had an opportunity to break the deadlock just before half-time. Osako managed to get a touch on Osako's low shot from the left in the 44th minute and saw the ball squirm through the grasp of Courtois, who gathered at the second attempt. Mertens then curled a first-time shot into the arms of Kawashima from outside the box moments later.

The Samurai Blue made a flying start to the second half as Gaku Shibasaki slipped in Haraguchi on the right after Vertonghen failed to cut the pass out, and the winger fired into the bottom-right corner of the net from 12 yards out three minutes after the restart.

The Red Devils almost found an instant reply, but Hazard hammered a first-time shot against the right post from 16 yards out after connecting with Mertens' cutback from the right on 49 minutes.

However, the game took another twist when Inui doubled Japan's lead on 52 minutes. Kagawa looked to be crowded out on the edge of the box and he fed Inui, who took one touch before arrowing a shot into the bottom-right corner of the goal past a diving Courtois from 20 yards out.

Lukaku should have reduced the deficit 10 minutes later, but he glanced a downward header wide of the far post from Thomas Meunier's cross on the right, before the Belgians survived another scare on 64 minutes.

Hiroki Sakai's low cross from the right was cut out by Courtois, who only succeeded in diverting the ball into Haraguchi and watched as it rebounded wide of the near post.

After Meunier lifted a first-time effort over the target from 19 yards out on the right after being teed up by Hazard on 66 minutes, Belgium hit back in outrageous fashion.

The threat looked to have passed from a 69th-minute corner when the ball was hooked out to the left, but Vertonghen sent a looping header from 16 yards out over Kawashima into the far corner of the goal.

Parity was restored five minutes later as Fellaini got on the end of Hazard's cross from the left and headed home past Kawashima, who kept Japanese hopes alive with a stunning double save on 85 minutes to deny Chadli and Lukaku in quick succession.

The Red Devils had Courtois to thank for keeping them in the tie at the death when he pushed behind Keisuke Honda's dipping free-kick from 40 yards out, and they won it in stoppage time with a devastating counter.

Courtois started the move with a quick throw-out to Kevin De Bruyne, who powered forward and played in Meunier, whose cross was dummied by Lukaku for Chadli to slot home at the back post.



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