Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini played fundamental roles in a thrilling 3-2 comeback win for Belgium over Japan to book their place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui early in the second half gave Japan a surprise two goal advantage until Jan Vertonghen’s header gave Roberto Martinez’s side hope.
And when your country needs a hero, with the minutes ticking down ominously and the exit door in sight, who do you need off the bench? Step forward, Sir Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini's goal – What a ball by Eden pic.twitter.com/6TbLC58tNN
— َ (@HazardEdition) July 2, 2018
He has now scored in consecutive World Cups. He has more knockout goals than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo put together. And he changed the course of this game with his looming physical presence as Japan retreated further and further back.
The game looked set for extra time but the drama was far from over. Belgium, deep into injury time, counter-attacked quickly and, with Lukaku at the centre of the move, found the winner through Nacer Chadli.
Tactical cam view of one of the best counters I have seen in this tournament.
Great run by Romelu to drag Nagatoma inside, which opens up the space wide. Perfect timing by KDB. Lukaku with the dummy and goal. Whewpic.twitter.com/LOwlhFkChE
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) July 2, 2018
This is textbook striker’s play from Lukaku, whose role in this goal – that run to open up the space on Belgium’s right and perspicacity to let the ball run through his legs, at such a crucial time in the game, with all those eyes on him – serves as an example of how the 25-year-old has ruthlessly improved himself over the last year or so.
Leading the line for Manchester United has invoked an added steeliness to his game, a sense of command and authority, and working with Thierry Henry in the Belgium setup has clearly refined the technical aspects to his game. The runs he makes are powerful, precise, piercing – a nightmare for any defence.
Lukaku, along with the Belgian Zidane, will have no fear of Brazil after this performance.