Japan fell prey to a well-oiled Belgian machine

Belgium Japan world cup match
Belgium's midfielder Nacer Chadli (centre) scores his team's winning goal past Japan's goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (left) during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Belgium and Japan at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on July 2, 2018. AFP PHOTO  

The 2018 World Cup is not short on surprises and drama and Japan vs Belgium on Monday was certainly one of those matches that will stay for long in the memories of many.

Japan, fresh from the half time break and against expectations, had gone two nil up with brilliantly taken goals.

The team was on course for a stunning upset until Belgium equalised through substitute, Marouane Fellaini.

Belgium's first goal was a lucky header that looped into the net. That was enough to set them on the path to redemption.

The match had four minutes of injury time added. Three minutes had already lapsed when Japan got a corner.

The ball was whipped in and Belgium's goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, came out and jumped to claim it.

What happened next was delightful to watch and is a lesson in how a well-oiled machine and harmonious mindsets get the job done.

When the corner was struck, there were eight Belgian players in the D defending, besides the goalkeeper, against four Japanese players.

Left wing

Two Japanese players, one of them the taker of the corner, were on the left wing. Belgium's other sub, Nacer Chadli, was in the D keeping an eye on Takashi Inui, a Japanese midfielder who was ready to pounce on any rebound.
Once the ball was in Courtois' hands, Chadli instinctively started running with Inui next to him. Courtois first glanced to his left, then to his right and in that split second, opted to roll the ball to Kevin De Bruyne.

His quick thinking meant that by the time he released the ball to his teammate, five Japanese players were already behind it, almost half the team.

When De Bruyne made his first of only four touches, Inui had already fallen behind the ball though he was running back to help defend.

Chadli, with a fresh pair of legs, clearly outpaced Inui. Gen Shoji, a Japanese defender, was right behind De Bruyne when the Belgian received the ball and run fast to deal with the looming threat.

The only problem was that the ball was kept tantalizingly ahead of him. Shinji Kagawa, an experienced midfielder, was on the right of De Bruyne when Courtois initiated the pacy counter-attack.

Rather than run parallel to De Bruyne and mark Thomas Meunier, Kagawa opted to run diagonally towards De Bruyne, which meant that Meunier was left all alone on the right.

Eden Hazard was an option for Belgium on the left of the field but with his tired legs, Chadli had overtaken him before getting into the final third of the field.

Halfway mark

Just after the halfway mark, Hotaru Yamaguchi, a midfielder, stood his ground to block De Bruyne, prompting the Belgian to pass to Meunier on the right.

As Meunier got to the ball, only two Japanese players were behind it, defender Yuto Nagatomo and midfielder, Makoto Hasebe.

Nagatomo drifted towards Meunier while Hasebe stayed with Romelu Lukaku.

Chadli was totally unmarked and when Meunier crossed the ball, Lukaku, in what can only be described as a genius move, dummied and let the ball through knowing that Chadli was behind him.

Chadli did not need a second invitation and slotted the ball home with his left foot, well beyond the outstretched arms of Eiji Kawashima. The goalkeeper was in a good position to block Lukaku's shot had he been the one to make the attempt on goal.

For sprinting all the way from the opposition's D to his own, Shoji made it less than a second too late and his lunge saw him collide with his own keeper. During the counter, Kagawa and Inui peeled off, tired and sensing that the ball was too far ahead of them.

Conceded goal

Japan, for all their valiance and hard work, had conceded a goal with 19 seconds left of the match to go.

It took just six touches for the ball to get from Courtois to the back of the net.

The goalkeeper knew exactly what he needed to do when he got the ball from the corner, and so did De Bruyne, Meunier, Chadli and Lukaku.

The result, heartbreak for the Japanese and a morale boost for the Belgians that could carry them to the final, all in the space of just 12 seconds.