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Belgium 2-1 USA (AET): Argentina await after thriller

Belgium are into the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku finally wore down a United States side inspired by one of the great goalkeeping displays from Tim Howard.

Marc Wilmots was able to name Vincent Kompany in the side and he made a big call up front, going for Divock Origi ahead of Romelu Lukaku, thus rewarding the Lille man for an impressive start to his international career. Not known for being quick out of the blocks, Belgium came close to breaking the deadlock in the first minute. After good link-up play between Dries Mertens and De Bruyne, Origi was through only to be denied by Howard. Both Belgium and the Everton goalkeeper had set the tone for what was to come and Origi was involved a good deal early on. The USA looked to turn both Belgian fullbacks and play balls in Alderweireld and Vertonghen. They had a good opportunity when Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey combined to good effect but the latter’s shot was comfortable for Thibaut Courtois.

Divock Origi almost scored in the first forty seconds! (Photo: @BelRedDevils)

Divock Origi almost scored in the first forty seconds! (Photo: @BelRedDevils)

Belgium should have taken the lead midway through the first half. Jan Vertonghen picked Graham Zusi’s pocket and fed De Bruyne, who disappointingly dragged his shot wide. For once, it was self-inflicted on Belgium’s part who now launched wave after wave of attack down their left flank. Vertonghen should have set up Fellaini for the opener but he betrayed his lack of attacking composure, delayed his pass and Beasley cleared his lines. Hazard, operating on the left, then twice created danger before US rightback Fabian Johnson pulled up with a hamstring injury. It was a tragic way to end an outstanding tournament for the Hoffenheim man but few, Janusz Michallik excepted it must be said, could have foreseen the impact his replacement DeAndre Yedlin would have.

Yedlin immediately won a corner and his lungbursting runs down the right were the USA’s best outlet with van Buyten coming to Belgium’s rescue to head away a dangerous cross towards Dempsey. The Seattle Sounders rightback continued to make his mark and more good work led to Zusi fluffing his lines five minutes before the break and the sides went in scoreless at half-time. According to Opta, Belgium put 18 crosses in during the first half and succeeded with just one with Dries Mertens the main culprit.

There were no changes at the interval and Belgium immediately set out about the USA goal in a game that was much more open than any of their previous three. De Bruyne’s cross found the head of Mertens whose header surprised but did not deceive Howard. Origi was leading the line well and he twice came close in quick succession, first when a Vertonghen cross agonisingly eluded him and then when his header landed on top of the crossbar. Les Diables Rouges were piling on the pressure but to no avail and after Mertens’ clever effort at the near post went wide, he made way for Kevin Mirallas.

De Bruyne and Lukaku combined for both goals but there were 14 heroes out there last night (Photo: Wikipedia)

De Bruyne and Lukaku combined for both goals but there were 14 heroes out there last night (Photo: @BelRedDevils)

Chances continued to come thick and fast, mostly for Belgium, as the game entered the phase where Wilmots had hoped his attacking riches would take advantage of. Mirallas played more centrally than Mertens and asked questions of the US defence with his infield running and pace, setting up Origi who was again thwarted by Howard. Eden Hazard then turned defence into attack, which culminated in Mirallas being clean through and seeing his shot saved by his Everton teammate. Daniel van Buyten was then denied by an heroic challenge from Besler with the USA throwing everything into their efforts to stop a rampant Belgium attack as the tension mounted. Big Dan was key at both ends while Origi saw yet another effort kept out by Howard who was on his way to a record-breaking display.

As stoppage time approached, Hazard hit the side netting before Kompany read the game superbly and swept up at the back but he didn’t stop there! He now surged forward and eventually got on the end of a somewhat mediocre De Bruyne cutback only to be denied by Howard. There was a heartstopping moment seconds before the end when unmarked substitute Chris Wondolowski blazed high and wide when the offside flag was incorrectly up. It would have been the ultimate sucker punch.

Now Wilmots acted and he relieved Origi of his duties up front and brought in Romelu Lukaku. As in the Germany-Algeria game, it didn’t take long in extra time for the deadlock to finally be broken. Lukaku spun away from Besler down the right and rampaged forward. It looked like Zagreb all over again but this time his cutback ricocheted into the path of De Bruyne, who took his time and this time made no mistake as he stroked the ball beyond a helpless Howard. As we put it at the time:

Far from killing the game as a contest, De Bruyne’s goal was the catalyst for some incredible scenes in the remainder of extra time. Vertonghen again dithered in the final third when Lukaku was well-placed, Lukaku was twice denied by Howard as the Chelsea man urged the crowd on and there was one passage of play where the Belgian defence threw the kitchen sink at the US to prevent them reaching the box and then Alderweireld made a vital block in the penalty area.

Belgium doubled their lead when De Bruyne, operating on the left as he had done at points in the second half, returned the favour. He slid the ball into Lukaku who powered the ball home at the near post. There were no half-measures from the 21-year-old striker, who has seen already both sides of international football in this tournament alone.

And yet to their eternal credit, Klinsmann’s men steadfastly refused to accept defeat. With his first touch, 19-year-old Julian Green scored the first goal against Belgium from open play in this World Cup in the second period of extra time and the US had not a second but perhaps a fourth wind. The Belgian midfield was out on its feet and with Chadli now on, Courtois showed why he is yet to taste defeat for his country with a stunning stop at the feet of Dempsey after the US flummoxed their opponents with the best free kick routine I’ve seen since Javier Zanetti in France 98. Yedlin kept going down his flank – his cross was cleared by Fellaini and he collapsed to the ground in cramp at the death as his volley went wide. The final whistle blew and no Belgian fan watching can honestly say they have ever experienced a game like it. The United States cannot receive enough credit for an incredible effort but it’s Belgium who have now met our prediction of the quarters and they go on to the capital Brasilia to take on Argentina on Saturday.




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