A 94th-minute winner by Nacer Chadli ended the World Cup dreams of Japan in heartbreaking fashion as Belgium made a stunning fightback to win 3-2 at Rostov Arena in Russia on July 2.
After weathering a first-half Belgian storm, Japan opened the second period with two lightning strikes, Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui scoring goals that allowed the Samurai Blue to dream of an unlikely win over the world’s No. 3 team — and a first appearance in the quarterfinals.
But the star-studded Belgium team, which entered the game on a 22-game unbeaten run, struck back with goals from Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini, before Chadli sent Japan’s players crumpling to their knees.
“I guess the way we carried out the game plan shows our naiveté,” said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe, who announced his retirement from the national team the next day. “It’s difficult to put into words and it will take a bit of time to get our heads around this, but we gave the ball away cheaply and various mistakes led to us giving up goals.”
Despite the hurt, Japan will always know that they took part in one of the most entertaining games of the World Cup, a pulsating battle that featured the best of coach Akira Nishino’s team in attack and defense. (Kyodo)