The dynamic duo of Takayuki Suzuki and Junichi Inamoto responded quickly for the co-hosts before Peter Van Der Heyden equalized. Both teams had chances to win the match in the tense final 15 minutes. After adjusting to the pressure of the event, Japan will look to continue their good form against Russia next. Coming from a goal back themselves, the steadfast Belgians take on Tunisia.
A few early flurries by either side never amounted to much, but Japan seemed to have the momentum with the throngs of supporters' voices behind them.
One of the better opportunities of the first half came from a Japan free kick, but Kazuyuki Toda’s long-range shot went well over the crossbar (19’).
Minutes later, Gert Verheyen provided the first real chance for Belgium when he nodded a header just wide of the post after receiving a cross from Jacky Peeters on the right side (23’).
On the ensuing goal kick, the ball was flicked into space for Takayuki Suzuki, but he was run off the ball by a defender and the near-threat ended with the ball trickling out of bounds for a Belgium goal kick (23’).
With Japan unable to create any serious danger, the Belgians started to form their attack. Seigo Narazaki made one of the best saves in the early stages of the tournament when he dived high to bat away Marc Wilmots’ header from 10 metres (29’).
Belgium had another opportunity when a blocked shot softly rolled out to Bart Goor just outside the penalty area, but his left-footer was driven inches wide of the top-left corner (36’).
From there, the hosts picked up the pressure and the speed of the match increased with both teams racing back and forth in search of the go-ahead goal before half-time.
A poor clearance resulted in the first goal of the match, but it didn’t take away the beauty of Wilmots’ opening strike. A Belgium free kick was softly headed to the top of the area, where Eric Van Meir lobbed the ball back into the box. Wilmots found himself in space eight metres out and ripped a bicycle kick by Narazaki’s right side (0:1, 57’).
The goal silenced the crowd at Saitama, but just two minutes later, they were back on their feet. Suzuki equalized with a commendable solo effort of his own after he tracked down a long pass out of midfield. He was able to lunge and get a toe to the ball, just flicking it past charging goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger and inside the near post (1:1, 59’).
Now playing with momentum on their side, Japan went ahead for the first time in their FIFA World Cup™ finals history. Inamoto’s speedy run on the left side brought him into the area with three Belgium defenders chasing him. The Arsenal midfielder took his time to place the ball out of the reach of De Vlieger and inside the far post from 12 metres (2:1, 67’).
But against the run of play, Belgium were able to pull level. With all players heading out of Japan’s penalty area, Peter Van Der Heyden was the only one heading forward when the ball was played back in by Belgium. Van Der Heyden calmly lobbed the ball over the head of Narazaki (2:2, 75’).
Inamoto thought he had another go-ahead goal as stoppage time approached, but he was ruled to have committed a foul to win the ball inside the area before chipping his shot over De Vlieger (86’).