Belgium dramatically recovered from going two goals down to Japan to secure a last-gasp 3-2 victory and set up a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.
Roberto Martinez’s side came so close to crashing out of the tournament in Rostov as they found themselves behind to second-half goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui.
But the so-called Belgian Golden Generation then staged a remarkable comeback, responding with goals from Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and, in added time, Nacer Chadli to demonstrate the extent of their significant attacking threat.
Martinez’s team had made the promising start expected of them, but consistently lacked the final touch they needed to convert their dominance of possession into goals. Romelu Lukaku twice saw shots deflected wide for corners that came to little, and then with only a simple finish required in front of goal, he struggled to connect with the ball.
Japan were stretched throughout a first half in which they were often defending but almost took an undeserved lead on the stroke of half-time when Thibaut Courtois spilt a routine ball between his legs it was heading for the back of the net until he reacted and dived to recover.
Concern that Belgium’s wastefulness would cost them proved correct only three minutes into the second half.
A swift counter-attack led to Haraguchi being sent through one-on-one with Courtois and he calmly finished first time into the far left-hand corner.
A curling Eden Hazard effort almost provided an instant equaliser but it hit the post. Instead, Japan doubled their lead in the 52nd minute when, from the edge of the area, Inui struck a fine effort into the bottom-right corner .
Martinez then brought on Chadli and Fellaini for Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco and the comeback began. First Vertonghen – from way out on the left – sent a looping header over goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and inside the far post in the 69th minute.
Five minutes later, Fellaini levelled when Hazard created space to cross from the left and the midfielder nodded past Kawashima.
Both teams came close to scoring a third, first when Kawashima produced a fine double save from Chadli’s and Lukaku’s close-range headers and then when Courtois saved a deflection from Axel Witsel.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, the Belgian keeper claimed a corner and rolled the ball out. Kevin De Bruyne led a counter-attack and fed Thomas Meunier on the right. The full-back’s cross was brilliantly dummied by Lukaku to leave Chadli with a simple finish.