By Izuchukwu Okosi
Belgium came from two goals down to edge past a brilliant Japanese side 3-2 in the Round of 16 thriller at the Rostov Arena Monday evening.
Belgium have not lost in their last 22 competitive games while it is the third time Japan have reached the round-of-16 stage but they have never secured passage to the quarter-
Shinji Kagawa fired the first salvo with a first minute shot.
Belgium went close to breaking the deadlock in the 25th minute with Romelu Lukaku at the end of a Dries Mrrtens’ cross but Maya Yoshida’s challenge unsettled the Manchester United striker.
Belgium continued their relentless pressure even Vincent Kompany going for the broke.
Japan thought they had gone ahead when Yuri Osako’s clumsy touch near the end of the first half almost deceived Thibaut Courtois, the Asians proving to be a match for the more favoured Belgians.
Genki Haragushi put Japan ahead three minutes after the break with a classy finish after Takashi Inui had latched onto a loose ball from Eden Hazard to release him. Haragushi contemplated making a pass to a teammate before making the right decision.
Hazard almost made amends before the Japanese celebrations stopped and restore parity for Belgium but his shot rebounded off the post.
Inui then made it 2-0 with a thunderous shot in the 52nd minute off a Shinji Kagawa assist.
Thomas Meunier’s tantalising cross found Lukaku but his 62nd minute glancing header went inches away from the goal.
Roberto Martinez brought on the duo of Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in a desperate measure to open up the Japanese back line.
Belgium scored after a poor defensive clearance and got back into the match in the 69th minute through Jan Vertonghen who produced a wonderful header which nestled in the far corner eluding goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Fellaini then grabbed the equaliser in the 74th minute with a textbook header as Hazard’s near cross found his towering frame.
The last team to come from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout round match was Germany against England in 1970.
In the 80th minute substitute Keisuke Honda made a brilliant run to the near post but his intention was thwarted by an alert Courtois.
It was the turn of excellent Japanese keeper Kawashima to produce two saves off Chadli and Lukaku with four minutes left on the clock.
Chadli finished off a blistering counter attacking move in the 93rd minute to break Japan’s hearts. It ended 3-2.
Belgium will play Brazil but Japan entertained the world in arguably the most entertaining match of Russia 2018 thus far.