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′

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.