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′

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.

Chastain, MacMillan inducted into US Soccer Hall of Fame

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Brandi Chastain looked at the assembled crowd in a tent under the rain and addressed former coach Tony DiCicco, who had just introduced her at the induction ceremony for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.

[ MORE: USMNT smashes six past Honduras in CONCACAF WCQ ]

“Thank you, not just for today but for every day that you gave me the chance to play for the women’s national team, and for having the confidence in me and the guts to tell me I wasn’t going to be a forward,” she said.

Chastain, a forward on the 1991 World Cup champions and a left back whose penalty kick won a shootout for the 1999 title, was inducted Friday night along with midfielder Shannon MacMillan, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion three years later.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

The ceremony was held before the U.S. men played Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.

Remembered most for pulling off her shirt after her World Cup-winning goal and celebrating in a sports bra, Chastain grew up in San Jose and talked about her early days playing youth soccer in the area, starting with the Quakettes. After winning her first World Cup title, she was left off the 1995 roster. She revived her career as a defender.

“Change is good. Though, scary, it’s good. And I think we would all benefit from seeing change as an opportunity for growth and development, and for a new adventure,” she said.

Now 38, Chastain scored 30 goals in 192 international appearances and also won a pair of Olympic gold medals. MacMillan, 42, had 60 in 176 international games.

“It was always such a massive honor that gave me chills every time I walked in that locker room, whether it was my first cap, my 100th cap or my last cap,” MacMillan said. “It was something that I never took for granted.”

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy was given the Colin Jose Media Award.

The Hall’s building in Oneonta, New York, closed in 2010 and a new Hall is being built in Frisco, Texas.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.