De Bruyne, Lukaku lift Belgium in extra time, send U.S. out of World Cup

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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.

[ MORE: Player Ratings: How US fared in brave defeat ]
[ MORE: Three things we learned from US v Belgium ]

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.

source: AP
Fabian Johnson leaves the pitch after being injured during the first half against Belgium. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

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.

[ MORE: Tim Howard’s heroics not enough ]
[ MORE: Klinsmann: U.S. gave everything they had ]

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.

source: AP
Tim Howard, left, deflects a shot by Kevin Mirallas, one of 16 saves the U.S. goalkeeper made against Belgium. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

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.

Lineups

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′

Barcelona’s Twitter hacked to claim Di Maria signing

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FC Barcelona had eyeballs popping across the Twitterverse for a solid 90 seconds there.

La Liga’s giants Tweeted out a welcome to Angel Di Maria, the current PSG and former Real Madrid star, with the hashtag #DiMariaFCB.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

It was an odd Tweet for 4 a.m. local time, as humourously pointed out by our Andy Edwards, and the hackers were quick to claim credit before any Tweets could be deleted.

So if someone tells you Angel Di Maria is the latest member of Barcelona, be sure to stop the spread of fake news.

On a day where Barca’s reportedly ready to up their bid for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, something tells us someone at the Camp Nou is turning over their keys to the club’s social media.

Rescheduled Yankees game moves NYCFC-Houston to Connecticut

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A rescheduled New York Yankees game is moving New York City FC to Connecticut.

Relax, it’s only for a day.

NYCFC will entertain the Houston Dynamo at Rentschler Field at 3 p.m. on Sept. 23 instead of their regular home of Yankee Stadium.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

The club will offer tickets to another match to current ticket holders, and will also discount tickets to the game in East Hartford for fans who hold tickets to the Yankee Stadium game and want to travel for the Dynamo match (More info here, if you are in either of those camps).

This is the third of three scheduled seasons NYCFC will play at Yankee Stadium, and it doesn’t look like it’ll find a new home any time soon.

Given the everyday nature of Major League Baseball, it’s surprising there have not been more conflicts for NYCFC. We just remain hopeful for the day we can watch NYC’s star-studded roster play on a bigger home field.

“Injustice.” “Incomprehensible.” Ronaldo again protests suspension

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The five-game suspension Cristiano Ronaldo received for making contact with an official is not sitting well with the forward.

Better put: it’s still not sitting well.

Six days ago, Ronaldo took to Instagram to say he was being persecuted after his red card in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Tuesday afternoon, he kept up the strong words by saying the suspension is “incomprehensible” and “an injustice.”

Roughly translated, Ronaldo posted, “One more incomprehensible decision. From injustice to injustive, they will never overcome me. And as always I will come back stronger. Thank you to all who have supported me.”

We’ll say this: He’s a really good soccer player.

Barca to offer Liverpool $176M for Coutinho

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Barcelona is insane.

Desperate following a rough two-legged loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, the Blaugranas are reportedly ready to offer $176 million to Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho.

Read it again: $176 million for Philippe Coutinho. It’s about $126 million with $12 million more when Barca clinches a UCL spot over the next four seasons (which they have done every year since finishing sixth in 2002-03).

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Even in this transfer market, that’s nuts. Crazy to offer, and maybe even crazier not to accept.

That’s pretty much two-thirds of the Neymar money. Two-thirds (I keep repeating myself with this story)

It’s even a convenient out for Jurgen Klopp, who’s said Liverpool is not a selling club. Here, he can say with a straight face that the club can improve with this money by selling a player who has — and I recognize it’s not all about goals and assists — one double-digit goal season in his career and a career single-season high of seven PL assists (done thrice).

Almost anyone who’s had the audacity to say the Reds should accept the bid has often been shot down by the Anfield faithful online. “It’ll ruin our season” and “How do we replace him this late?” are the common cries.

To the first question: No, it won’t. To the second: Easy?

It’s not like-for-like, but nearly every player in the world is available for $176 million. It’s not like-for-like, but here’s a short list: Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale, Paulo Dybala, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus… Shoot! Klopp could sign 2-3 of his favorite BVB alums.

With this fee, Coutinho would become the second-highest transfer fee of all-time, behind only Neymar. There are makeweights Barcelona could offer that would make the deal even more intriguing to the Reds: Arda Turan, Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez.

Look at it from a neutral’s eyes — which I know is hard from the number of times I’ve read @ Tweets that say, “The only people who would like this deal are fans of Chelsea or United!” — at some point, it becomes unreasonable to not take advantage of Barcelona’s desperation. Maybe Coutinho is worth the “fit” for Barca, but rejecting this fee is more illogical than the offer itself.

At the risk of inflaming every more Liverpool supporters, Ross Barkley is probably going to cost someone $35 million and he’s a year and a half younger (Coutinho is a superior player right now, but we’re talking about the market here).

And, lastly, at some point you’re telling your entire team room that you’re willing to turn down near record money — it would be the highest non-buyout clause transfer ever — to keep a player from his dream club.

Take the money. Use it. Move on.