Belgium came from two goals down to engineer a dramatic 3-2 victory over Japan in the last 16 of the World Cup, with West Brom’s Nacer Chadli the unlikely goal hero for Roberto Martinez’s side.
Japan pressed Belgium from the start, and when they had the ball themselves, they looked a real threat going forwards.
Belgium enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first half but created very few genuinely good chances, with Axel Witsel trying his luck from long range as Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard were stifled in attack by a well-marshalled Japanese defence.
Late on in the first-half, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was almost left with egg on his face, letting the ball slip through his fingers before stopping the ball crossing the line.
Indeed, the Belgian never nearly paid the price for not being 10cm shorter…
Japan took a shock lead just three minutes into the second half, with Genki Haraguchi producing a fantastic finish after a superb through-ball from Gaku Shibasaki caught out Jan Vertonghen.
Belgium almost hit back immediately, with Eden Hazard hitting the post with a pot shot that left the woodwork vibrating for several minutes.
However, it was Japan who would score again next on 49 minutes, courtesy of a brilliant 25-yard strike from Takashi Inui which sailed past Courtois.
Belgium continued to toil and just after the hour mark Lukaku had a great chance to get one back, only for the striker to head wide from close range.
Soon after, Belgium finally got on the score sheet, with Vertonghen’s outrageous looping far-post header beating ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima from an acute angle.
Whether the Spurs defender meant it or not is highly debatable, however.
The Red Devils’ return to parity was completed on 74 minutes, with Roberto Martinez biting the bullet and sending the big men on.
Moments later, Marouane Fellaini did what he does best – muscling in and heading home from an inviting Hazard centre.
Japan were now struggling to deal with Belgium’s aerial threat, with Lukaku going close again.
Late on, sub Keisuke Honda tested Courtois with a long-range freekick, which Courtois palmed wide.
However, from the resulting corner, the Belgians broke quickly, with Chadli (who played just twice for West Brom since the turn of the year) putting the finishing touch to a superb team move after Lukaku’s smart dummy…
The game would end 3-2 to Belgium after a truly stunning clash – one of many at the World Cup so far.
Belgium now face Brazil in the quarter-finals while Japan go home, albeit after a fine tournament topped off by an assured, energetic, and admirable skilful display in the last 16 – one that they didn’t really deserve to lose, in all honesty.