For a moment, it looked to be the greatest game in Japanese soccer history. Up 2-0 against Belgium, Japan was looking at a first ever trip to the World Cup quarterfinals.
But Belgium unleashed its world-class quality and ripped off three straight goals, the last coming in the dying seconds of regulation, to crush Japan’s hopes on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.
The victory avoided a demoralizing defeat for Belgium’s so-called Golden Generation of players that has long promised a great performance at a major championship and now seems poised to deliver it, at least if it can get past mighty Brazil in the quarterfinal on Friday.
In the dying seconds, Belgium breaks and gets a 4 on 3. Thomas Meunier slides it across, Romelu Lukaku dummies the ball and it goes to Nacer Chadli, who strokes it in as Japan backpedals. What a comeback!
Japan did brilliantly to keep Belgium’s best players quiet, and to threaten themselves. But Belgium always had the option of bringing on Fellaini – and, potentially, others – and with their height offering a threat that no amount of skill and effort from Japan could contain. De Bruyne and Hazard disappointed, and Belgium only came up with one killer move that ripped Japan apart. It concluded with two seconds of the game to play. Unanswerable. Undeniable. Unbelievable.