Nacer Chadli the hero as Belgium bounces back to beat Japan

Belgium had its status as a World Cup title contender severely tested on Monday, as it came back from two goals down to beat Japan and advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Brazil. After Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui fired Japan to a 2-0 lead early in the second half, Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini scored twice in five minutes to pull the Red Devils level. Nacer Chadli went on to net the winner in the dying moments of injury time.

How it happened

With a lineup of superstars headlined by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin DeBruyne, Belgium was the strong favorite heading into the match and regarded by many as a true contender to reach the July 15 final.

The European side enjoyed more possession and attacking opportunities in the first half. Although it was Japan who nearly took the lead right before the break when Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois fumbled a save on an effort from Yuto Nagatomo and nearly allowed the ball to roll into his own goal.

Japan did eventually snatch the lead just two minutes into the second half when Haraguchi capitalized on a defensive error from Vertonghen and burst into the box to lash in a right-footed shot that beat Courtois at the far post.

Belgium very nearly responded instantly, with Hazard rocketing a shot off the post just after the reset. But it would be Japan that would carry on with the scoring when a poor clearance from Belgium saw the ball fall to Inui, who blasted a long-distance effort past Courtois to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.

Inui’s goal was a historic milestone for Japan, which had never before led a World Cup match by more than a single goal.

Unfortunately for Japan, the lead would prove short-lived.

Vertonghen made amends for his earlier error, heading a ball across goal that flew over the head of Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima and nestled into the top corner of the net to make it 2-1 in the 69th minute.

Fellaini equalized for Belgium just five minutes later, rising above the Japan defense to head in a fine ball from Hazard.

With the match tied at 2-2 and seemingly headed for extra time, Belgium launched one final attack deep into injury time. After saving an effort from Keisuke Honda, Courtois launched the ball to DeBruyne upfield. The Manchester City playmaker laid it out wide for Thomas Meunier, who flashed a low cross across the top of the box, seemingly to Lukaku. But the big striker left it for Chadli, who hit it first time to slot the match-winner past Kawashima with what proved the final kick of the match.

— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 2, 2018

Belgium passes the test, kind of

Belgium is arguably the only pre-tournament favorite to have lived up to its billing in the group stage. But beating Panama, Tunisia and a second-string England team didn’t really do much to reveal whether or not the Red Devils’ title-favorite credentials were truly justified.

Against Japan, we got to see a bit more of just what this team is made of. Yes, Roberto Martinez’s men were flat in the first half and were lucky to bounce back after giving up two goals in the space of five minutes. Yet Belgium did come back and not only equalized, but found a way to win the match in regular time.

Although Belgium’s comeback was admittedly impressive, the fact that it had to fight back in the first place was due to it having given up two soft goals to one of the lowest-ranked teams remaining in this tournament. With a quarterfinal meeting with Neymar and Brazil awaiting them on Friday, Martinez’s Red Devils will need to shore up the carelessness that led to the Japanese goals. Because it’s hard to imagine a similar comeback in the cards if Belgium goes and gives up two similar goals to Brazil.

Nacer Chadli of Belgium scores the winning goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Getty Images)

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