Belgium came from 0-2 down to seal a 3-2 win with the final kick of the game, sending a heartbroken Japan out of the World Cup in a thrilling last-16 encounter.
The game looked to go to extra time with the score level at 2-2 after Belgium had hauled themselves back from the brink, but Nacer Chadli delivered the knockout blow in the fifth minute of injury time.
Belgium dominated a goalless first-half but Japan took the lead almost immediately after the break when Genki Haraguchi calmly finished when sent through one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois.
Takashi Inui doubled the Asians’ lead, firing from a range putting out of Beligian goalkeeper Courtois’ reach.
Vertonghen pulled a goal back for Belgium with 20 minutes of normal time remaining through a masterful looping header across the penalty area and over Eiji Kawashima’s head, before substitute Marouane Fellaini rose highest to head an equaliser.
With Japan pushing for a winner in injury time, Belgium broke rapidly down the other end before the ball was squared for Chadli to tap into an empty net.
Belgium now face Brazil in the quarter-finals on Friday.