World Cup: Belgium 3 Japan 2 - 5 things you need to know

Belgium's Marouane Fellaini (right) in action with Japan's Maya Yoshida and Eiji Kawashima at the Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on July 2, 2018.
Belgium's Marouane Fellaini (right) in action with Japan's Maya Yoshida and Eiji Kawashima at the Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on July 2, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Since West Germany defeated England 3-2 in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final, no team has ever managed to recover from a two-goal deficit at the tournament's knockout stage.

But Belgium rewrote that piece of trivia by coming back from 0-2 to eliminate Japan in one of the best games of this tournament in Russia. As the Red Devils celebrate a rousing win, the Samurai Blue head home with a lot of credit.

1. Goals

Belgium (Jan Vertonghen 69th minute, Marouane Fellaini 74th, Nacer Chadli 90th) Japan (Genki Haraguchi 48th, Takashi Inui 52nd)

2. The wow moment

It takes something special to beat a goalkeeper of Thibaut Courtois' calibre but that is exactly what Inui did when he bent a 25m shot beyond the Belgian's fingertips for a goal to remember. It showed just how fearless Japan were, willing to take on a major footballing power like Belgium and testing Courtois from distance.

3. The talking point

Japan only had seconds to hold on to take the game to extra time but they elected to pour almost the entire forward to attack a corner kick. When the move broke down, Belgium immediately counter-attacked through Kevin de Bruyne and Chadli arrived to tap home the winner with virtually the last kick of the game. Some might point out that Japan were arguably a little naive but this remains moot.

4. The star

It is honours even between Eden Hazard and Yuto Nagatomo. Both men played to their maximum in this absorbing contest. Hazard wants to join the ranks of super elite players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and he added another exhibit in his case file by running repeatedly at Japan and threatening with his shooting and through passes.

Given the armband, Hazard showed leadership qualities out there as he took on the Japanese by himself.

Equally impressive was Nagatomo. He had a busy night trying to stifle the overlapping Thomas Meunier but the left-back was able to combine his defensive work with penetrating runs into the Belgian half. Time and again, Nagatomo whipped teasing crosses and was delightful to watch as he combined in webs of passes with Shinji Kagawa and Inui.

5. What the result means

Belgium saved their skin in the most dramatic fashion and will now meet Brazil in the quarter-final. The Selecao has been unrelenting in Russia so far and the Red Devils will be mindful not to be caught out by counter-attacking tactics like how Japan exposed them. But this fixture is also an opportunity for Belgium's golden generation to make a statement. If they can beat Brazil, the sky is the limit.

After the controversial way Japan had qualified for the last 16, running down the clock in their 0-1 defeat by Poland, the Samurai Blue were roundly criticised for their negative tactics. But Nishino and his men redeemed themselves in this match. Even after taking a 2-0 lead, the Japanese continued to attack.

No gamesmanship, no theatrics like Neymar, just pure attacking football. The result is an open contest of end-to-end action and the fans were indeed given a royal treat.