After an inauspicious start, the 2018 World Cup is turning out to be one of the most exciting editions yet.
Japan, the only Asian team left in the tournament, somehow contrived to surrender a 2-0 goal lead and ended up losing 3-2 to star-studded Belgium in a humdinger at the Rostov Arena.
The ageing and outmatched Blue Samurai set out to harass their much more fancied opponents at every turn, and they were in dreamland after goals by Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui in four awe-inspiring minutes put them 2-0 up early in the second-half to leave Belgium in tatters.
Inui’s thunderbolt gave Thibaut Courtois in the Belgium goal no chance at all and is one of the goals of the tournament. However, facing a humiliating exit, the Belgians showed that they are not just about talent, but possess plenty of heart as well.
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Pushing forward, defender Jan Vertonghen’s dramatic looping header gave Japan something to think about with 21 minutes left. Goalkeeper Eji Kawashima then kept Japan in the game his side with two saves in quick succession to deny Nacer Chadli and Romelu Lukaku.
However, he could do nothing to stop substitute Marouane Fellaini’s headed equaliser, as the Manchester United hardman created problems for the smaller Japanese defenders in the area.
Then, with extra time looming, Belgium broke free after a Japanese corner. Kevin de Bruyne spotted Thomas Meunier unmarked out wide and the PSG winger found an unmarked Chadli, who was left with a simple tap-in to seal a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
It was the type of fixture that emphasises just why the World Cup is the world most-watched sporting event, a true piece of dramatic theatre, from kick-off to its rousing conclusion.
Earlier, Neymar had kicked (and been kicked), screamed, pulled his hair and held his breath until he was blue in the face. Then he picked himself up and scored one goal and set up another to drive Brazil to a 2-0 win over Mexico. Then he caused a diplomatic incident. Ever the gracious victor, he said in a post-match interview: “The Mexicans were talking too much and now they are going home.”
Brazil v Brazil in a World Cup quarterfinal? If these Round of 16 games are anything to go by, It is going to be a match for the ages!