Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku scored in extra time to send Belgium into the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the United States in a tightly contested round of 16 match Tuesday night at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
Following 90 scoreless minutes, during which U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard excelled, Belgium finally found the net, as De Bruyne finished a quick counter started by Lukaku, who entered as a substitute at the start of extra time. The same two combined on Belgium's second goal as well, Lukaku slamming in De Bruyne's cross after the Red Devils caught the U.S. on the counter again.
The U.S. pulled a goal back in the 107th minute through 19-year-old substitute Julian Green to set up an exciting finale.
Howard finished with 16 saves, the most ever recorded by a goalkeeper in World Cup history. His counterpart Thibaut Courtois, however, made a vital save in the 114th minute to deny the U.S. an unlikely equalizer following a clever free kick.
With the win, Belgium advanced to face Argentina in the quarter-finals on Saturday in Brasilia. The winner of that match will play either the Netherlands or Costa Rica for a spot in the final.
Despite the loss, the U.S. will leave the tournament with a sense of optimism after advancing from the so-called "Group of Death" and playing Belgium close for 120 minutes.
For all the game's later drama, it didn't feature a single goal for the first 90 minutes.
The first chance fell to Belgium less than a minute into the game as De Bruyne picked out Divock Origi with a defense-splitting pass. Origi then blew past Omar Gonzalez and shot low at Howard, who saved with his legs.
The U.S. settled in slowly and created a chance in the 21st minute following fine interplay between Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley. But after receiving the return pass from Bradley inside the box, Dempsey curled a shot too close to Belgium goalkeeper Courtois, who saved easily.
Belgium then had two good chances in quick succession, with both set up by Jan Vertonghen. First, the left-back led a 23rd-minute counter, laying off for De Bruyne, who shot wide. Three minutes later, Vertonghen ran free on the left before crossing dangerously into the middle. But with Marouane Fellaini lurking, DaMarcus Beasley hacked the ball clear.
The U.S. were forced into making a substitution in the 32nd minute after right-back Fabian Johnson limped off with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by DeAndre Yedlin.
Belgium started the second half much like the first, creating an early chance after hitting the U.S. on the counter. De Bruyne set up the chance again, picking out Dries Mertens with a lofted cross. Mertens flicked a looping header toward goal, but Howard—not taking any chances—tipped the ball over the bar.
Belgium turned up the heat from there, pinning the U.S. inside their own box and creating numerous chances.
Origi headed off the bar in the 56th minute, and Vertonghen forced Howard to save one minute later with a shot from a tight angle on the left. In the 60th minute, Mertens flicked narrowly wide from Origi's cut-back from the byline. Nine minutes later, Axel Witsel drove a low shot just past the far post.
Dempsey shot straight at Courtois from distance in a rare U.S. attack in the 71st minute. Moments later at the other end, Howard made another vital save, blocking Origi's low drive with his legs after Belgium broke quickly down the field.
Belgium had yet another big chance in the 76th minute after catching the U.S. again on the counter. Origi cut open the defense with an angled pass to Kevin Mirallas, but Howard saved brilliantly with an outstretched foot to deny his Everton teammate.
Howard had no time to relax, though. In the 79th minute, he saved Eden Hazard's dipping shot, and six minutes later he tipped over a high drive from Origi. In the 88th minute, Hazard blasted into the side netting.
As extra time neared, the U.S. called on Howard yet again to push away a mishit shot by Vincent Kompany. All the good work nearly paid off in stoppage time, as the U.S. almost grabbed an unlikely winner.
Jermaine Jones won a header in Belgium's box, directing the ball into the path of Chris Wondolowski. With the goal at his mercy, Wondolowski sliced his shot well off target—though he had been ruled offside anyway.
In the break before extra time, Belgium introduced Lukaku to lead the attack in place of Origi. Within three minutes, the substitution paid off.
Leading a counter in the 93rd minute, Lukaku used his strength to hold off Matt Besler before steaming into the box and passing to De Bruyne. After beating two defenders with a couple of touches, De Bruyne finished low at the far post past Howard.
The U.S. defense had finally been breached, and it only took 12 more minutes for Belgium to do it again. De Bruyne and Lukaku combined again, this time with Lukaku finishing from De Bruyne's final pass to make it 2-0 in the 105th minute.
With that, the U.S. appeared beaten, but U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had another card left to play. With his final substitution, Klinsmann introduced Green, who had not played a minute in the World Cup until that point. But in the 107th minute, Green volleyed in delicately from Bradley's lofted pass to pull the Americans back into it.
Meanwhile, Lukaku was still wreaking havoc at the other end, working himself free again before forcing Howard to save with a low shot.
Needing another goal to stay alive, the U.S. nearly found it after working a clever free-kick routine in the 114th minute. Bradley played a short pass to Wondolowski, who touched it into the path of Dempsey after the latter rolled off the edge of Belgium's wall. Dempsey then placed his shot on target, but Courtois saved to keep his side ahead.
It turned out to be the difference, as the U.S. were unable to find what would have been an unlikely equalizer—even by this tournament's exciting standards.
|USA Player Ratings|
|DeAndre Yedlin (for Johnson, 32')||7||8||8|
|Chris Wondolowski (for Zusi, 72')||N/A||N/A||5|
|Julian Green (for Bedoya, 105')||N/A||N/A||7|
|Belgium Player Ratings|
|Daniel van Buyten||6||7||7|
|Kevin De Bruyne||6||5||6|
|Kevin Mirallas (for Mertens, 60')||N/A||6||5|
|Romelu Lukaku (for Origi, 90')||N/A||N/A||8|
|Nacer Chadli (for Hazard, 111')||N/A||N/A||6|
Klinsmann looked to the future, telling Jeremy Schaap live on ESPN:
We take a lot, a tremendous amount away from this experience. We grew a lot, we now know that we can play eye-to-eye with the big nations. The teams that we faced here are pretty much everyone’s favorites to win the World Cup, and we’ve done tremendously well against them.
Now we see a couple of young players coming through the ranks. To see now Julian Green jumping on the field and actually scoring then right away. DeAndre Yedlin and we have many other youngsters waiting, so after you finish a World Cup then you discuss the future of it, and that definitely goes towards the young players that we have in our country, and we build the next cycle.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots (via FIFA.com):
We played football, we were brave and we pushed ourselves to the limits. Sometimes in games like that when you have so many chances and you are denied, the result doesn’t go your way but we didn’t stop believing. Now we have four days to prepare for the Argentina game, which isn’t long. We’re not favourites but we want to win.
USA goalkeeper Tim Howard (via FIFA.com):
It's heartbreaking, I don't think we could have given any more. We left it all out there. We got beaten by a really good team. They took their chances well. It's heartache, it hurts. But hats off to Belgium, they were fantastic.