Belfast Telegraph

Comeback win shows why you should believe in Belgium, says boss Martinez

Belgium 3 Japan 2

By Steve Simpson

Belgium dramatically recovered from going two goals down to Japan to secure a last-gasp 3-2 victory and set up a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.

Roberto Martinez's side came so close to crashing out of the tournament in Rostov as they found themselves behind to second-half goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui.

The so-called Belgian 'Golden Generation' then staged a remarkable comeback, responding with goals from Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and, in added time, Nacer Chadli to demonstrate the extent of their significant attacking threat.

"You get pushed in games, let's congratulate Japan, they played the perfect game. They were clinical on the counter and so solid," Martinez said.

"It was a test of character and you see the reaction of our subs coming on to win the game. It tells you everything about this group of players. It is a day to be very proud of these players.

"Keep believing in Belgium. In the World Cup you want to be perfect but it's about getting through, it's about winning."

Martinez's team consistently lacked the final touch they needed to convert their dominance of possession into goals.

Romelu Lukaku twice saw shots deflected wide for corners that came to little, and then with only a simple finish required in front of goal, he struggled to connect with the ball.

Japan almost took an undeserved lead on the stroke of half-time when Thibaut Courtois casually spilt a routine ball between his legs but dived to recover.

Three minutes into the second half a swift counter-attack led to Haraguchi being sent through one-on-one with Courtois and he calmly finished first time.

Japan doubled their lead in the 52nd minute when Inui struck a fine effort into the bottom corner.

Martinez then brought on Chadli and Fellaini for Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco and their comeback began.

First Vertonghen sent a looping header into the net in the 69th minute. Within five minutes Fellaini had headed the equaliser.

In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Chadli had a simple finish at the back post.

"I am devastated," said deflated Japan boss Akira Nishino.

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco (Chadli, 65 mins), Mertens (Fellaini, 65 mins), E Hazard, Lukaku.

Subs not used: Vermaelen, Mignolet, Casteels, T Hazard, Tielemans, Januzaj, Dembele, Boyata, Batshuayi, Dendoncker.

Goals: Vertonghen (69'), Fellaini (74'), Chadli (90')

Japan: Kawashima, H Sakai, Yoshida, Shoji, Nagamoto, Hasebe, Shibasaki (Yamaguchi, 81 mins), Haraguchi (Honda, 81 mins), Kagawa, Inui, Osako.

Subs not used: Ueda, Endo, Okazaki, Usami, Higashiguchi, Muto, Oshima, Makino, G Sakai, Nakamura.

Goals: Haraguchi (48'), Inui (52')

Referee: Malang Diedhiou (Senegal)

Belfast Telegraph

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