Match No. 54: Belgium (3) vs Japan (2)
Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
Both sides started with a solid defensive setup and a good attacking intent. The first half was almost all Belgium as Japan kept them out on several occasions. The second half started with a bang with Japan scoring twice inside 10 minutes and setting up another upset. But on came the substitutes to change the course of the game. Or shall we say, super subs. After Vertonghen’s outrageous header, Fellaini levelled with his head and Chadli scored the winner on the counter. Japan barely put a foot wrong but were punished on the counter in the dying seconds.
14′: Carrasco does well to stay on his feet inside the box even though he was definitely caught on that occasion. Fancy feet from him but it is eventually cleared.
16′: Nice control by Hazard as the ball comes from over the top. He shields it from the defender and sets up the arriving Witsel. But his shot goes out for a corner.
18′: One corner later Kompany misses a chance as he watches it come from over his head but can’t connect properly.
21′: Lukaku turns and shoots from the edge of the box as he finds himself in some space. But he is closed down by the Japan defense. Corner.
25′: Lukaku with the chance! Spurns it! Beautiful cross comes in from the right and all the striker needs to do is apply the finishing touch. But the ball gets stuck under his feet and can’t get it on target.
28′: Chance for Kompany! Right across the face of the goal it goes as he clatters into the goalkeeper.
30′: First effort on target from Japan as they build a good attack and the header from Inui is easy for Courtois.
44′: Chance! Almost! Cross in from the right by Nagatomo falls to Osaka. He tries to control it but manages only to take the pace off the ball. Courtois spills it and it almost trickles in. Lack of pace on the ball helped the big guy there.
47′: GOAL! JAPAN SCORE! Vertonghen misses his interception on a beautiful through pass. Haraguchi was already on the run. He takes his time as he approaches Courtois and slots it past him.
49′: CHANCE! HAZARD hits the post! Swift counter by the Red Devils from the right side. Hazard receives it and he hits it sweetly even though it is wobbling a bit. And it crashes into the post and comes back to him but too quickly. He can’t handle the follow up.
51′: GOAL! JAPAN HAVE DOUBLED THEIR LEAD. Inui with a beauty from outside the box to which Courtois can’t get. Are we in for another upset here? You have to say though, he should not have had that much space and time 25 yards from goal.
62′: CHANCE! Missed by Lukaku! He has scored many of those for United this season but he misses the header from 2 yards out. He is onto the cross at the front post like a proper striker.
65′: CHANCE! Japan denied a third. Good one two down the right and Shibasaki gets into the box. His low cross is save by Courtois. It falls for Inui who is off balanced as he sends it over.
66′: Down the other end we go as Hazard pulls it back from the right. Meuneir sends it over the Japan goal. He was always leaning back there.
69′: GOAL! BELGIUM back into it. Crazy, crazy scenes. Clearance hardly goes the distance from the Japanese defense. The ball falls for Vertonghen on the left hand side. He tries to head it back in from 10 yards out and it ends up into the net. He can’t believe it himself.
74′: GOAL! SUPER SUB FELLAINI! Hazard with a brilliant cross with his left foot after a corner is cleared by Japan. Fellaini heads it downwards. 2-2 all of a sudden. Game on.
75′: Away we go at the other end. Japan with a chance as it falls for Inui who takes one touch too many and Belgium defense is able to handle it.
81′: Japan making their way into the box with some lovely bit of play down the right. Belgium finally intercept it. Resulting corner is wasted by Japan.
85′: SAVE! DOUBLE SAVE! Chadli rises high to head it towards goal. Kawashima dives to his right to produce a good save. Chadli recovers it and crosses it first time. Lukaku heads it but the keeper is there again to save it.
86′: Threat is still not over as he is forced into another save. This time it is Vertonghen who hits it with power from distance.
90′ + 1: SAVE! Courtois called into action by his own man Witsel as the cross from the Japanese left is met by Witsel rather awkwardly.
90′ + 4: GOAL! BELGIUM HAVE DONE IT! Chadli breaks Japanese hearts. Corner from the free kick is caught easily by Courtois. But he doesn’t dwell on it and rolls it out quickly. 2 passes later the ball comes into the box from the right and Chadli is left with the task of tapping it in.
Eden Hazard (***):
Man of The Match in the game where Beligum thrashed Tunisia, the Chelsea star had a good first half but an even better second half. He was at his creative best in the second half and set up a couple of opportunities for his teammates. He also came close to scoring when he hit the post.
Maya Yoshida (**):
Japan needed a solid shift from their star defender to handle the threat of the Belgian attack. And he delivered exactly that. Organized his defense well and kept his side in the game with crucial interceptions and blocks. But it did not prove to be enough.
Nacer Chadli came on as a substitute only for the last 25 minutes but was more involved in the game than any other player. He was a constant threat down the left for Belgium and it paid off in the final minute of normal time when he scored the goal.
The first 45 minutes weren’t the brightest but a second half that contained all of the 5 goals, made all of us forget that first half. End to end action in the final half an hour or so was exactly what the neutrals wanted and the final minute winner was what the Red Devils wanted. Exciting end to and exciting game.
Belgium are now tasked with facing a strong Brazil side who are the only side to have won their knockout stages without conceding up until now.