It took 93 minutes to break through, but after dominating regulation time against the United States, Belgium took the result they deserved. With extra time goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, the Red Devils are into the final eight at the 2014 World Cup, eliminating the United States 2-1 in Salvador, Brazil.
Despite out-shooting the U.S. 31-8 over the first 90 minutes, Group H’s winners were kept off the scoresheet through the first two periods, a status that changed three minutes into extra. After Lukaku beat Matt Besler to get behind the U.S. defense, a ball cut back toward the spot allowed De Bruyne to beat Howard from nine yards out. Eleven minutes later, De Bruyne’s pass into the left of the penalty area led to the Belgian’s winner, with Lukaku doubling his team’s lead from 12 yards out.
In the 107th minute, the U.S. cut the lead in half, with 19-year-old Julian Green scoring moments after becoming the youngest American to appear at the World Cup. Though the U.S. would come close once more, the Red Devils were able to hold on to their lead, handing the Americans a second straight Round of 16 loss – the fourth time in six tournaments a one-goal game has seen the U.S. out of the World Cup.
Belgium now moves on to face Argentina on Saturday in Brasilía, with the Albiceleste having beaten Switzerland earlier on in the day, 1-0. The victor will face the winner to the Netherlands-Costa Rica in the semifinals.
The match’s first surprise came when the U.S.’s lineup was announced, with Geoff Cameron, who had started the tournament’s first two games in central defense, chosen in midfield at the expense of Kyle Beckerman. Within 30 seconds of kickoff, Cameron was part of Belgium’s first attack, with miscommunication on a pass between himself and Alejandro Bedoya leading to a Red Devils’ counter. Tim Howard eventually kicked-saved Dorick Origi’s shot out for a corner.
It was the best chance Belgium would have in a half where they out-shot the U.S. 9-3, with a 3-1 edge in shots on target. The Americans, playing mostly down their right, were able to generate a handful of near-chances. With possession even through most of the half, Belgium created its best chances in transition.
At the 32-minute mark, the U.S. suffered its first major setback, losing right back Fabian Johnson. After spending much of the first 30 minutes trying to race behind Belgian left back Jan Vertonghen, Johnson fell to the ground near the center line, gabbing at his left hamstring. Immediately signaling for a substitute, Johnson gave way to 2o-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, who provided a few moments of danger over the half’s final quarter-hour.
In the second half, however, Belgium began focusing on Yedlin’s flank, using Vertonghen to generate two good chances in the period’s first 10 minutes through Vertonghen. The U.S. attempted to help Yedlin by shading central midfield Jermaine Jones to his flank, but with Eden Hazard also playing down Belgium’s left, the Red Devils nearly broke through just before the hour mark.
By that time, Belgium had begun dominating the game, holding the ball long enough in the U.S.’s defensive third to pin the American wingers next to their fullbacks. With three midfielders playing in front of a line of six, the U.S.’s chances to built out of the back began to diminish, and while Yedlin was still able to put in a number of dangerous balls from the right flank, his forays forward allowed Belgium to find Kevin De Bruyne deep down their left in transition.
In the 62nd minute, Belgian head coach Marc Wilmots brought Kevin Miralles on for Dries Mertens, a move that balanced the team’s attack. I the 71st minute, Mirallas forced four players to collapse on him at the edge of the penalty area, generating a chance for Origi. Five minutes later, Mirallas cracked the U.S. defense again, going through on Howard after a diagonal run was found by Origi. In the 79th minute, Mirallas collapsed the defense again, sending a ball through the area of Hazard. Howard’s ninth save of the match kept the score even. For a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, Mirallas was the game’s most important player.
By the time he was gone, Belgium’s control had turned into dominance. By the time Origi, in the 85th minute, drew Howard’s 10th of 16 saves (the most ever recorded in a World Cup match), the Belgians had out-shot the U.S. 27-6. Corner kicks were 14-3, while the U.S. had been called on to block eight shots. The numbers that mattered may have still read 0-0, but Belgium was out-classing their opponents on the field.
Despite all their advantages, Belgium nearly saw the match stolen from them before extra time. After Geoff Cameron looped a ball into the Belgian box, Jermaine Jones’s herder appears to find an open Chris Wondolowski behind the Belgian defense, eight yards from goal. As Wondolowski skied his shot over goal, the assistant referee’s flag went up, rendering the chance meaningless was the teams went to extra time.
Three minutes after the next kickoff, Belgium was in front, with another Wilmots’ substitute again changing the game. Off a ball out of their own end rolled down the right flank, Romelu Lukaku, who had just come on for Origi, beat Besler to go through toward goal, sending the U.S. defender to ground near the center line. Eventually cutting a pass back toward the penalty spot, the Belgian striker allowed De Bruyne to put the Red Devils in front, getting his shot around a recovering Besler to beat Howard inside the far post.
Eleven minutes later, Lukaku and De Bruyne teamed up again, doubling Belgium’s leaded. Off another transition chance, De Bruyne carried the ball down the left flank before pulling up at the edge of the penalty box. Lukaku, cutting across Besler, ran onto a ball rolled into the left of the penalty area, one-timing a high shot past Howard for a 2-0 lead.
Four minutes later, a demoralized U.S. swapped halves with Red Devils, not knowing they’d soon have reason for hope. Off a Michael Bradley ball chipped into the penalty area, Julian Green, making his first appearance in this year’s tournament, cut in from the left flank and turned on a right-footed volley that beat Thibaut Courtois. Moments after becoming the U.S.’s youngest player at a World Cup (19), Green became his country’s youngest scorer, making it 2-1 with 14 minutes to play.
In the 114th minute, the U.S. nearly had their equalizer, with Dempsey left alone in front of goal after a Bradley restart went behind the Belgian wall. By the time the U.S. captain reached the ball, all 6’6″ of Courtois was in front of the shot, with the ensuing rebound eventually cleared by Vertonghen.
As the game reached the end of its second hour, the U.S. had finally evened play. Ultimately, it was too late. After a game that saw most of the action tilted toward Tim Howard’s goal — one where the U.S. was out-shot 39-17 — Belgium is into the quarterfinals, leaving the U.S. to balance its Group of Death escape against a second straight extra time exit from the World Cup.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini; Mertens (Miralles 60′), De Bruyne, Hazard (Chadli 111′); Origi (Lukaku 91′).
Goals: De Bruyne 93′, Lukaku 105′
United States: Howard; Johnson (Zusi 32′), Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley; Cameron, Bradley, Jones; Zusi (Wondolowski 72′), Dempsey, Bedoya (Green 105′)
Goals: Green 107′