The Asian side took a 2-0 lead early in the second half, but the Belgians fought back to 2-2 and Nacer Chadli won it at the death to set up a quarterfinal with Brazil.
Roberto Martinez’s Diables Rouges were heavy favourites going into the game, and fielded a strong line-up featuring Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Napoli’s Dries Mertens.
They had plenty of the ball in the first half, but offered very little to threaten the Japanese defence.
Romelu Lukaku hit a fierce strike from the edge of the box, but it was deflected behind by former Inter fullback Yuto Nagatomo.
The Manchester United striker should have scored on 25 minutes, but under pressure from Maya Yoshida he failed to connect properly and Kawashima gathered.
It wasn’t all Belgium though, and Takashi Inui gave an indication of what was to come when he headed straight at Courtois after Nagatomo’s cross.
Earlier, Neymar scored his sixth FIFA World Cup goal, before substitute Roberto Firmino added one late on, to lift Brazil past Mexico 2-0 to advance into the quarter-finals at Russia 2018.
The first 20 minutes of the match started with El Tri pressuring the South Americans’ backline, but eventually Tite’s side were able to grow into the game, ultimately generating more goal scoring opportunities and looking the likelier to break the deadlock.
It took until after the break, though, and once the second half commenced, it wasn’t long until Neymar was wheeling away in celebration. He slid in to finish from close range after Willian sent in a dangerous, low cross on 51 minutes.