Rostov-on-Don: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said he was deeply proud after his team hit back from 2-0 down to beat Japan and claim a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Substitute Nacer Chadli slotted home in the fourth minute of injury time to complete a memorable comeback and seal a 3-2 win in the last-16 match in Rostov-on-Don.
Belgium were stunned after Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui gave Japan a two-goal advantage early in the second half.
Belgium’s coach Roberto Martinez encourages his players during the Round of 16 match against Japan. AFPBelgium’s coach Roberto Martinez encourages his players during the Round of 16 match against Japan. AFP
But Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini pulled them level and Chadli’s winner means they will play Brazil in the last eight.
“That was a test for the team and its character,” said Martinez after Belgium become the first team in 48 years to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a World Cup knockout match.
“We survived it, we have gone through and that is the most important thing.”
“No negatives today, it was about getting through,” Martinez added. “It is a day to be very proud of these players. Keep believing in Belgium.
“In the World Cup you want to be perfect but it’s about getting through, it’s about winning.
“I couldn’t be prouder of them and everyone in Belgium needs to be proud of these players.”
Martinez, the former Everton manager, also said Japan deserved credit for presenting his team with such a tough test.
“Let’s congratulate Japan, they played the perfect game. They were clinical on the counter and so solid,” said the Belgium boss.
“It was a test of character and you see the reaction of our subs coming on to win the game. It tells you everything about this group of players.
“Physically, we finished the game really strong, the third goal was almost a powerful counter attack which saw us cover the pitch in six seconds.”
The Spaniard denied under-estimating Japan after his side went 2-0 down early in the second-half.
“We didn’t underestimate them, we gave the players a lot of details about what Japan could do,” said Martinez.
“Their first goal was a fantastic counter attack and the second one was a wonder strike from them down to brilliance.
“Mentally we had to be very strong, I felt the players always had the belief, but we never underestimated Japan.”
Martinez singled out Romelu Lukaku for praise in the build-up to the winning goal after the Manchester United striker let the ball roll to the unmarked Chaldi to score, rather than claim the glory for himself as he was marked.
“Lukaku was aware and showed great selflessness to allow Nacer to score,” beamed Martinez.