Japanese hurricane halted
Rostov-On-Don: A slight hesitancy and a lack of communication within just a 12-second period sent Japan crashing out of the World Cup in Russia in a heartbreaking loss.
Belgium won the match 3-2 on July 2 to avoid what could have been one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
Millions of fans in Japan who were up until dawn watched as the additional time of four minutes for the second half approached an end, with the score tied 2-2.
Japan had a chance to take the lead, but midfielder Keisuke Honda's corner kick was caught unhindered by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. He immediately rolled the ball to Kevin De Bruyne, who burst up the field, leaving Japanese defenders in his wake.
Hotaru Yamaguchi, who was waiting on the Japanese side of the pitch, moved forward to reduce the space with the oncoming Belgian player.
But the ball was passed to Thomas Meunier on the right side. He sent a centering pass that reached Nacer Chadli, who booted the ball into the back of the Japanese net.
The success of that winning play was helped by the 11 Japanese players on the pitch who were not of a single mind and did not have the time to communicate about what to do.
Some players were clearly thinking about holding the Belgians to a draw and hoping for the best in overtime.
Defender Maya Yoshida admitted that he stopped moving for a moment, allowing the Belgians to unleash their speedy counterattack.
Yuto Nagatomo, another defender, said: "They showed incredible running ability at the end of the game. I just could not get back in time."
Other players were determined to put the game away and send Japan to the Round of 8 for the first time in history. Before Honda approached the corner kick, defender Gen Shoji moved up to the area in front of the Belgian goal. "Viewed from an international level, I might not have the height to do anything, but I felt like contributing whatever I could," Shoji said. After Honda's corner kick was caught, Shoji dashed quickly back to the Japanese goal but was unable to stop the winning goal.
Japan scored the first two goals of the game, but once again, it failed to advance to the quarter-finals of a World Cup. After the game, manager Akira Nishino reflected on what Japan had to do in the future.
"This may be the scary part of the World Cup," he said. "To have the game turned upside down in such a way showed us that there is still something that Japan lacks."
Meanwhile, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said he was deeply proud after his team hit back from 2-0 down to beat Japan and claim a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Substitute Nacer Chadli slotted home in the fourth minute of injury time to complete a memorable comeback and seal a 3-2 win in the last-16 match in Rostov-on-Don.
Belgium were stunned after Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui gave Japan a two-goal advantage early in the second half.
But Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini pulled them level and Chadli's winner means they will play Brazil in the last eight.