Belgium secured their place in the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a dramatic 3-2 win over Japan on Monday at the Rostov Arena in Russia.
Goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui had put Japan ahead 2-0, but Belgium hit back through Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini before Nacer Chadli won it in the 94th minute.
Belgium Exposed as Overrated World Cup Darlings
Belgium were expected to make light work of Japan but instead found themselves on the brink of a huge shock after going 2-0 down after 52 minutes.
Japan got their tactics spot-on and deservedly took the lead after defending well, pressing Belgium and taking their chances when they came.
In contrast Belgium flattered to deceive and created little initially despite the presence of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in the starting lineup.
Goal's Carlo Garganese offered his view on De Bruyne:
Carlo Garganese @carlogarganese
Don’t like De Bruyne in a 2 man CM in a MF 4. Either 1. He can’t play his natural game as he has to be disciplined and that is a massive waste of a world class player or 2. He plays his natural game and leaves a gaping hole in MF that will be exploited by better teams #BELJPN
Vertonghen was guilty of some sloppy defending for Japan's opener, and he was a little fortunate to pull one back with a header that looped over goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
Football writer Tom Williams offered his view of the goal:
The goal gave Belgium momentum, and Roberto Martinez's substitutes, Chadli and Fellaini, also had an impact as Belgium were more direct in the closing stages.
Fellaini headed home Hazard's cross off a corner, and as Japan tired, the Red Devils began to dominate. A late De Bruyne surge found Thomas Meunier, whose cross was tapped home by Chadli to seal the win.
It completed the comeback for Belgium but will do little to dismiss their reputation of underachievers. Martinez has one of the strongest squads in the tournament to choose from, but the feeling remains that he is not getting the best out of his players.
Neymar, Brazil Will Love Their Chances to Reach Semi-finals
Belgium will go on to face Brazil for a place in the semi-finals, and Neymar's team will have enjoyed watching Belgium toil against Japan.
The Selecao had earlier beaten Mexico 2-0, with Neymar scoring and assisting as he gets closer to full match fitness. He only recently returned to action after a lengthy injury lay-off before the World Cup.
Oliver Kay at the Times offered his view of the quarter-final:
Belgium will need to sharpen up defensively as Brazil have considerable options in attack with Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.
The Selecao may also look to exploit Yannick Carrasco, who has been playing at left wing-back for Belgium.
Dermot Corrigan at ESPN FC shared his view of the winger as a defender:
Brazil look strong defensively as they have only conceded one goal in the tournament. Selecao Brasileira explained why they are so solid at the back:
Seleção Brasileira @BrazilStat
The secret of success for Brazil's defense is zonal marking. They mark an area, not players. Miranda and Silva don't rush out of the penalty box and follow a player, like Mexico's defense did vs Neymar before his goal. Zonal marking always > man to man marking. Always, for me.
Tite's side are favourites to lift the World Cup, and on evidence, they have little to fear from a flawed Belgium team who are less than the sum of their parts.
Japan's Display Cements World Cup as One of History's Greatest
The 2018 World Cup has already seen its fair share of upsets, with defending champions Germany having been dumped out in the group stages and Spain shocked by Russia in the last 16.
Japan made it to the knockout phase courtesy of having a better disciplinary record than Senegal and were widely expected to be comfortably beaten by Belgium's star-studded squad.
However, they took a shock lead through Haraguchi after 48 minutes and managed to double that lead through Inui just four minutes later.
Belgium looked set for a big upset but managed to respond and level it up through headers from Vertonghen and Fellaini.
Football writers were quick to share their thoughts on the tournament:
There was still time for more drama as a late counter-attack deep into stoppage time saw Chadli win it with the last kick of the match.
The game is the latest chapter in one of the most unpredictable World Cups in history and one that has provided huge entertainment, goals and unexpected results.
The 2018 World Cup is widely regarded as being one of the most open tournaments for some time. Brazil are the favourites but all of the teams left in the competition will harbour hopes of winning, and it would be little surprise if there were a few more shocks along the way.
Belgium will take on Brazil on Friday at the Kazan Arena. Japan's next game is an international friendly against Costa Rica in September.