Belgium had its status as a World Cup title contender tested on Monday as it came back from two goals down to beat Japan and advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil. After Japan ran out a 2-0 lead early into the second half, Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini scored twice in five minutes to pull the Red Devils level before Nacer Chadli netted the winner in the final minute of injury time.
With a lineup of superstars headlined by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin DeBruyne, Belgium was the strong favorite to win the match and regarded as a true contender to reach the July 15 final. The European side enjoyed more possession and attacking opportunities in the first half. Although it was Japan who nearly took the lead right before the break when Belgian keeper fumbled a save on a shot from Nagatomo nearly allowing the ball to roll in behind him.
Japan snatched the lead just two minutes into the second half when Genki Haraguchi capitalized on a defensive error from Jan Vertonghen and burst into the box to lash in a right-footed shot that beat Courtois at the far post.
Belgium very nearly responded instantly, with Eden Hazard rocketing a shot off the post just after the reset. But it would be Japan that would score again when a poor clearance from Belgium saw the ball fall to Takashi Inui who blasted a long-distance effort past Courtois to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.
Inui’s goal was a historic milestone for Japan, which had never led a World Cup match by more than a single goal.
Unfortunately for Japan, the lead would prove short-lived. Vertonghen made amends for making the error that gifted Japan its opening goal. The center back headed a ball across goal that flew over the head of Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima and nestled into the top corner of the net to make it 2-1 in the 69th minute.Marouane Fellaini equalized for Belgium just five minutes later, rising above the Japanse defense to head in a fine ball from Eden Hazard.
Belgium’s winning goal came on a counterattack launched in injury time. Courtois launched the ball up field and Lukaku dummied a cross from Thomas Meunier, leaving it for Chadli to slot in for the match winner.