After yesterday’s Russian surprise, the World Cup 2018 quickly had a more routine look about it today as Belgium came back to beat Japan. Brazil advanced into the last eight and Mexico, yet again, dropped out of the competition in the last 16. Still no game five for them.
World Cup 2018 Diary: Belgium To Face Brazil After Breathtaking Comeback Against Japan
By Dave Bowler
For all that the Brazilians were the better side and the right result was reached in the finish, it was in the balance right through to the dying moments when Roberto Firmino added a second to Neymar’s opener to clinch victory. In the preceding 88 minutes, Mexico’s high energy and enthusiasm had kept them very much in with a shout, albeit that Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson had little to tax him during the game.
This is a Brazilian side that defends stoutly – the antithesis of the David Luiz led nervous breakdown of four years ago – working on the perfectly logical basis that if they don’t concede many, the odd lightning breakaway will yield enough match winning chances for them to progress. So it was once again, for when you can perm any three from Neymar, Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Firmino, then you have something approaching that Barcelona trio of Neymar, Messi and Suarez when it was at its most devastating.
It was certainly enough to despatch Mexico with clinical efficiency, the pace, movement and razor sharp passing enough to unhinge them and present Neymar and Firmino with tap ins. They progress serenely enough, but the suspension of Casemiro for the quarter-final might have severe repercussions, for his excellence in the holding role has been as central to their success as have the strikers. That might cost them now they are up against Belgium.
For Mexico, it is another World Cup of what might have been. They will surely look back and deeply regret that second half showing when they were routed by the Swedes in game three of the group stage for they would surely have loved to have been in that much weaker other half of the draw that would have been their reward as group winners. Put Mexico in that group of eight and you’d have been looking at potential finalists.
Japan might well be regretting the way they played against Poland too, because England would have been better opponents than Belgium. From the outset, in their first game against Panama, Belgium have looked like a team that wants this, desperately, desperately wants it. Against Japan, they played poorly for an hour, they looked dead and buried, but they have quality not just on the pitch, but on the bench too, the quality in depth that you are going to need to win the trophy.
What they have underlined is that as well as ability, they have character, masses of it, and they have the self belief, the intelligence and the absolute refusal to be beaten that could give them their first trophy. What a shame that they will meet Brazil in the quarter-finals rather than in the final itself.
Japan gave their all, were terrific defensively for 45 minutes and then absolutely explosive for 15 minutes in the second half, scoring two terrific goals through Haraguchi and Inui and having Belgium right against the ropes. But they couldn’t find that knockout blow and when Roberto Martinez brought on Fellaini and Chadli and signalled a change in the Belgian style, going more direct to exploit the greater physical presence of his side, the tide began to change.
Vertonghen’s brilliant looping, dropping header has been written off as a fluke by some, but watch the replay and you see him take a look at the hopeless positioning of the goalkeeper, while his celebration is one of satisfaction of a job done properly. From there, it was clear Japan couldn’t handle set pieces and it was seemingly inevitable that Fellaini would nod one in.
Extra-time looked set up but Japan had one last opportunity. A poor corner sailed into Courtois’ arms and the keeper set his side away. De Bruyne made his telling contribution of the night, a searing run and beautifully weighted pass into Meunier. Lukaku had the presence of mind to dummy his low cross and there was Chadli to stroke the ball home, a beautiful goal.
Belgium have it all. Quality, character, intelligence, cojones, depth of squad, ability to play different styles. Not even in the halcyon days of the ‘80s have Belgium ever been so well set to win the World Cup.