Saints’ Maya Yoshida and Japan produced one of their best performances of the World Cup only to be on the wrong side of a stunning Belgium comeback in Rostov in the last of the first knockout round ties.
The Japanese appeared to have too much energy and attacking edge for Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils and looked to be firmly on their way to a quarter-final clash with Brazil by the midway point of the second half only for Belgium to power to 3-2 victory late on.
After an even opening period, two goals in the space of four second-half minutes brought the last 16 tie to life.
Jan Vertonghen’s slip let Genki Haraguchi in behind to flash a shot past Thibaut Courtois on the angle before Takashi Inui superbly slammed home from 25 yards to double the Samurai Blue’s lead.
Back came Belgium in equally emphatic fashion. Vertonghen’s looping effort caught out Eiji Kawashima to reduce the deficit on 69 minutes and they were soon level thanks to substitute Marouane Fellaini’s thumping header from Nacer Chadli’s cross.
The comeback was completed with the last action of the game. Just moments after Courtois had jumped to collect Keisuke Honda's corner, Chadli was rolling the ball into the net 30 seconds from time via a Kevin De Bruyne breakaway and Lukaku dummy in the box.
Heartbreak for Maya and Japan who go home with their heads held high after a series of impressive performances in Russia.