Belgium manager Roberto Martinez praised his players’ desire after they dramatically recovered from going two goals down to win 3-2 against Japan and progress to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Martinez’s team will face Brazil next but will do so with renewed confidence in their abilities and with the knowledge that they are highly capable of recovering from losing positions. Their fourth victory from four in Russia represented the first time since West Germany defeated England in 1970 that a team has won a World Cup knockout match after falling at least two goals behind.
Nacer Chadli had scored their winning goal in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, following earlier finishes from fellow substitute Marouane Fellaini and Jan Vertonghen. Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui had earlier given Japan a 2-0 lead that with less than 30 minutes to play had left Belgium on the verge of elimination.
Having watched his team demonstrate their potential, Martinez felt they had passed a test of their character.
“You have to find a reaction, but what you need more than anything is the desire and togetherness of a group of players who are desperate to perform,” he said. “If you look at the stats there are not many games where you can come back from 2-0 down at a World Cup.
“This is down to the personality, to the focus, to the desire, to the never-give-up attitude of the players and almost the belief of the players when they came on. Doing it within the 90 minutes was an incredible achievement.
“The third goal is a really strong counter-attack which in almost six seconds we cover from one box to another with three players being able to get there. Then the unselfish play from Romelu Lukaku, who as a number nine could have tried to finish the action, but he is aware and allows Nacer Chadli to score into an open goal.”
Japan had pursued a third goal, despite being consistently outplayed before they had taken the lead, and their manager Akira Nishino said: “We wanted to win it. Our team is strong enough and against Belgium we could at least match them, I believed.
“There were different plans in my mind and of course we started off very well but at the end, right at the end, to have conceded a goal like that was not expected. When we were 2-0 up and I didn’t change my players, I really wanted to score another goal and we did have opportunities. We were to some extent, controlling the ball and controlling the game, but at that point, Belgium upped their game when they really had to.
“At that point, when the free-kick and corner-kick were taken, we wanted to decide and finish the match. Of course at that point I thought we might go to extra-time but I did not expect that kind of super counter-attack and my players didn’t expect that in a few seconds the ball would be carried into our half and it would decide the match.”
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