Belgium managed to become the first side since West Germany in 1970 to recover from a 2-0 deficit in the knockout stages as they beat Japan 3-2.
From the get-go, Japan started the game extremely brightly which took the Belgians by surprise. They held onto the ball well and created a number of chances with their high energy passing and dribbling.
Belgium looked very depleted and slow on the ball, struggling to find the right ball in the final third. When they did get their chance Romelu Lukaku scuffed his lines yet again, missing a tap-in from five yards out when the ball got tangled in-between his legs. The first half finished 0-0 in a rather disappointing fashion.
Things got worse when Japan scored their first goal three minutes after the restart, after a sublime pass from Gaku Shibasaki fed Genki Haraguchi who slotted home excellently to beat Thibaut Courtois. Jan Vertonghen was heavily criticised for his poor defending that led to the goal, after he was unable to intercept what seemed to be a reachable pass and also for his inability to close down Haraguchi.
It seemed like the devils had responded immediately when Hazard got into a great position on the edge of the box, however, his strike rattled the post and it was not to be.
Just four minutes after the first goal, against the run of play, Japan shocked the Belgians yet again by doubling their lead. This time poor man marking from Axel Witsel and a stunning strike from Takashi Inui doubled Japan’s lead.
It took until the 65th minute for Roberto Martinez to make two substitutions that would prove vital in Belgium’s comeback. Bringing on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli changed the dynamic of the match allowing Belgium to threaten more in the air. Fellaini’s presence was a real concern for the Japanese whilst Chadli was very happy to get on the ball and run at the Japanese defence.
Jan Vertonghen redeemed himself in the 69th minute after he scored a long distance looping header from a tight angle that came from an accidental Japanese clearance. The goal seemed to inspire the entire team as they ran to pick up the ball for the restart.
Hazard, who had been relatively decent throughout the game, took his performance to another level, creating chances, running the show and he set up the equaliser with an excellent left-footed cross into the box which went over Lukaku but was headed home by Fellaini. The Manchester United midfielder didn’t do much else, as we can see below, but his goal was vital.
And with the last kick of the game, Courtois caught a Japanese cross and laid the ball quickly to Kevin De Bruyne who drove 30 yards with the ball. He managed to find Thomas Meunier after the inside run from Lukaku created space for him. Meunier then crossed the ball low onto the ground and Lukaku left the ball for Chadli in unbelievable style.
After a poor start, the unbelievable comeback was well deserved considering the way Belgium played in the second half. Martinez’s bold substitutions paid off, and also proved the critics who had ridiculed both Fellaini and Chadli wrong.
Next Belgium face Brazil in the quarter-final in what should be an amazing match of two extremely strong sides. This time Belgium will need to be more focused defensively so that they do not concede so easily.