football player kicks ball

Japan play their part in the World Cup’s game of the tournament, but it’s Belgium who advance.

No one thought Japan would trouble Belgium. After all, the Red Devils are the tournament’s top scorers and cruised through their group with three wins. Belgium are great entertainers while Japan, in contrast, had come in for criticism for negative tactics in their final group match and only scraped into the last 16 on the basis of having a better disciplinary record than Senegal.

But Rostov on Don was treated to the match of the World Cup so far – starting with a neat touch and sublime finish from Genki Haraguchi. Takashi Inui then scored one of the goals of the tournament with a rocket from outside of the box to leave Japan two goals to the good after 52 minutes.

Belgium were all soft touches and intricate passing, and it was only when they went to a more direct approach that they troubled the Japanese defence. Jan Vertonghen’s header looped at an outrageous trajectory to pull one back for the Europeans before Marouane Fellaini equalised (unsurprisingly, with a header). Japan had a chance to score in the final minute when they could have played out a 2-2 regular-time draw and were then stunned as Nacer Chadli was played into space by Kevin de Bruyne to score the decisive goal with the last kick of the match.

It was a stunning comeback from Belgium and a highly impressive performance from an unfancied Japanese team. On paper, the Belgians have arguably the best squad in Russia, but Japan showed that a compact, organised, and fast-passing outfit can trouble the best.

Japan will have won many admirers in Russia, while Belgium advance to the quarter-finals for a compelling tie against Brazil, who saw off Mexico with relative ease earlier in the day. The winner of that last-eight tie will face the winner of France vs Uruguay on what remains a difficult side of the draw despite the fact that the likes of Spain, Germany, and Argentina are out of the tournament.

The other side of the draw is kinder. Russia have booked a spot in the last eight against Croatia, while the victor between Sweden and Switzerland will face either England or Colombia. None of these teams – bar Croatia and Colombia perhaps – would’ve thought that they might find themselves on the brink of the semi-finals. And that’s why this really is a World Cup to savour.

Stream Sweden vs Switzerland at 16:00 and England vs Colombia at 20:00 in Tuesday’s last-16 matches on DStv Now on your mobile or your laptop while you're on the go. If you missed any of the action from Belgium’s barely believable win over Japan, catch up with an eight-minute highlights package.

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