Belgium threw caution to the wind to reach the World Cup quarterfinals as substitute Nacer Chadli scored in the dying seconds against Japan to snatch a 3-2 comeback win on Monday and set up a clash with five-time champions Brazil.
The distraught Japanese, who went 2-0 up with goals by Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui early in the second half, fell to the turf after Chadli poked the ball home from Thomas Meunier’s cross four minutes into added time at the Rostov Arena.
Belgium, who had taken a conservative approach to the game, got back into contention with late goals by Jan Vertonghen and substitute Marouane Fellaini before Chadli struck.
“That’s what happens in the World Cup. It was a test of character and a test of the team. It tells you everything about this group of players,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.
One of the most exciting teams of the group phase, Belgium faced an embarrassing exit but finally clicked to become the first team to win a World Cup knockout game from two goals down since West Germany beat England 3-2 after extra time in 1970.
Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ have now scored 12 goals in four games in Russia ahead of a mouthwatering last eight clash with Brazil who beat Mexico 2-0 earlier on Monday.
With centre back Vincent Kompany back in the line-up for the first time since picking a groin strain in a warm-up game, Belgium had looked safe at the back but uninspired up front.