Brazil and Belgium were the next two teams to advance to the quarterfinals in the World Cup on Monday. The Brazilians beat a Mexico team that looked out of ideas in the final third. Belgium, meanwhile, came back from a two-goal deficit against Japan in a game that will go down as a World Cup all-timer.
Roberto Firmino once again started on the bench when, in this writer’s humble opinion, he should have been on the pitch. It was a comfortable 2-0 win in the end against El Tri, but it didn’t feel that way at the time, with both teams looking uninspired in the first half. Neymar scored early in the second half, and Mexico spent the next half hour trying to even it up, to no avail. Finally, in the 81st minute, Firmino was subbed in and wasted no time taking advantage. He prodded home Neymar’s ball from close range and finished off the game, ensuring the Brazilians made it into the quarterfinals.
In Monday’s other match, Simon Mignolet was once again on the bench, but that just gave him the best seats in the house to one of, if not the best, match so far in this World Cup. Once again, we had to wait until the second half for the action, but after a lackluster start, everything kicked off early.
Japan struck first — and second — in rapid succession, with Genki Haraguchi scoring in the 48th minute and Takashi Inui following him with a long range stunner only four minutes later. It looked like an upset was on the cards for Japan, but Belgium weren’t to be counted out so quickly.
A bizarre headed pass-turned-goal from Jan Vertonghen beat the Japanese keeper, Eiji Kawashima, to make it into the far post and begin Belgian’s improbable comeback. Then Roberto Martinez got his substitutes right, with Marouane Fellaini scoring one off of his meaty forehead in the 74th minute to make it all square. And in the dying moments of normal time, Nacer Chadli, Martinez’s other sub, finished off a picture perfect counterattack to break Japanese hearts and send Belgium into the final eight.
Next round, one of Firmino or Mignolet are destined to get sent packing because Brazil and Belgium are set to face one another. But for right now, the two teammates join Croatian defender Dejan Lovren as the Liverpool players who have made it into the quarterfinals with their respective countries.
Tomorrow concludes the Round of 16, and we will discover the fate of Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold as England take on Colombia for one of the final spots.