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Belgium stun Japan to reach quarters


Belgium completed a remarkable revival as they came from the World Cup abyss and beat Japan to reach the quarter-finals.

Roberto Martinez’s side were trailing 2-0 when he brought on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in the 65th minute, and Fellaini scored the equaliser before Chadli netted a 94th-minute winner.

They now face Brazil in the last eight on Friday.

Japan looked on their way to a famous win in Rostov after Genki Haraguchi ran onto Gaku Shibasaki’s long ball, which Jan Vertonghen should have cut out, to open the scoring.

Takashi Inui’s 25-yard strike made it 2-0 and looked set to take the Asian side into their first quarter-final.

Belgium’s Premier League stars – their golden generation – had put in a disappointing performance, and Martinez turned to the oft-ridiculed Fellaini and West Brom winger Chadli in his hour of need.

Their fortunes changed after that as Vertonghen scored a looping header to get them back into the game.

Fellaini then headed in Eden Hazard’s cross to level before Chadli converted Thomas Meunier’s pass to finish off a flowing move and help the Red Devils avoid being the latest victims of a World Cup of shocks.

Belgium are the first team to fight back from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout game since West Germany against England in 1970.

Belgium find a winning mentality at perfect time

Belgium clearly have the players – Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois are some of the Premier League’s undoubted stars. They are now unbeaten in 23 games, but there are always questions about whether they are tactically astute.

Martinez and his players will feel they have gone some way to answering those, and finding a real winning touch, having looked dead and buried after an hour.

Chelsea winger Hazard had hit the post in one of their few good chances in the opening 60 minutes.

But they ground their way back into the game – even though the goal to give them hope was a bit of a fluke. Inui booted the ball up into the air and Vertonghen’s looping header flew over keeper Eiji Kawashima, who should have done better.

At 20 yards, it is the longest headed World Cup goal since those stats were first recorded in 1966.

Then the substitutes came to the fore. Fellaini, who signed a new Manchester United deal last week, powered in Hazard’s centre to level the scores after 74 minutes.

And the winner was a real team effort. Goalkeeper Courtois rolled the ball to De Bruyne, who had been quiet for 90 minutes but exploded into life when his country needed him.

The Manchester City playmaker carried the ball 60 yards before feeding Meunier, his cross was stepped over by Lukaku, and Chadli was on hand to steer it home.

Lukaku had scored 17 goals in his previous 11 Belgium games but his decision to not shoot on this occasion might prove more crucial than any of those.

Can Belgium now win the World Cup?

Belgium will feel a huge amount of spirit building after this fightback – and also when they reflect on the fact their last defeat was Martinez’s first game in charge, against Spain in September 2016.

Their past two tournaments – the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 – have both come to an end at the quarter-final stage. The Red Devils, who have never won a major tournament, will be desperate to go at least one step further this time – but there is one huge problem.

Their next game is against the favorites to win the tournament, five-time champions Brazil, on Friday in Kazan. The winner of that game faces either 1998 kings France or two-time winners Uruguay for a place in the final.

They will not need reminding that if they had lost to England in the final group game, instead of beating them, no World Cup winners would have stood between them and the final.

“Belgium had to dig deep from within and they did it so well,” said BBC Radio 5 live’s Chris Sutton. “Belgium are not going to have a harder game than this all tournament. They were in a real scrap.”