Japan got a two-goal-lead, but then a resilient Belgium showed why they are considered to be the favourites of the tournament.
Belgium vs Japan – Key events:
Belgium XI: Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Yannick Carrasco (Nacer Chadli, 65′); Kevin De Bruyne, Alex Witsel; Dries Mertens (Marouane Fellaini, 65′), Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard.
Japan XI: Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki (Hotaru Yamaguchi, 81′); Genki Haraguchi (Keisuke Honda, 81′), Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Unui; Yuyu Osako.
Goal: Haraguchi (48′), Inui (52′), Vertonghen (69′), Fellaini (74′), Chadli (90’+4′).
Yellow card: Shibasaki (40′).
Japan started with a defensive game-plan, as expected. And it worked perfectly for them in the first half. Only good chance of the half came in Belgium’s way, when De Bruyne’s cross found Kompany inside the box, but the Manchester City defender failed to convert it. Eventually, the underdogs managed to hold on to a goalless draw until the break.
And then, the beginning of the second half provided the unthinkable! Three minutes into the game, a brilliant through-ball from Shibasaki found an onrushing Haraguchi who only had Courtois to beat. And the midfielder made no mistake to slot that ball home. Four minutes later, to the utter astonishment of the supporters, Japan doubled their lead. This time, a stunning shot from Inui beat the Belgium custodian well and good. And with only more than half an hour to go, it was Japan’s match to lose, as they were leading 2-0.
Belgium needed some extraordinary luck and performance after the second goal. They got that at the 69th minute, when a simple header from Vertonghen looped above all the defenders and the goalkeeper and crossed the goalline to give some hope for the Belgium fans. Five minutes later, after an attacking spree, substitute midfielder Fellaini rose up to the occasion. The Manchester United player capitalized on a superb cross from Hazard and headed it beautifully to restore parity in the match.
After the Fellaini goal, it was a scintillating affair with both sides trying utmost to take the lead. Around the 85th minute mark, Kawashima had to draw two stunning saves to keep the hopes alive. His counterpart, Courtois also had to make a couple saves in the dying moments. And then, the Europeans ensured the biggest comeback of the tournament.
Through a quick counter-attack, Meunier got the ball in the right hand side. He then passed the ball inside the box and Lukake left the ball intelligently to create an empty space for Chadli. The midfielder made no mistake to power the ball into the nets, and it was 3-2, with no time left for Japan to turn it back.