BELGIUM 2, USA 1 AET
BELGIUM HOLD OFF LATE US SURGE TO PROGRESS TO THE QUARTER FINALS, WONDOWLOWSKI COULD HAVE WON IT FOR AMERICANS IN NORMAL TIME
Just when you thought you couldn’t see a more attacking game at the World Cup, the Americans served up another slice of attacking football and pushed the Belgians all the way to the end of Extra Time.
Tim Howard had by this time racked up a record 15 saves for a goalkeeper since the 1966 World Cup as he singlehandedly kept the Americans within touching distance till the end of the game and despite their technical limitations they gave everything they had in a performance full of running and commitment.
In the end it was Extra Time goals by Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku which won it for Belgium although the Americans did pull one back at the start of the last 15 minutes of Extra Time through Julian Green to keep the excitement ratcheted up.
12 of the 15 goals scored in the knockout phase so far have come after the first half but there could have been a Belgium goal after just 40 seconds when Divock Origi ran clear but couldn’t get the shot over Tim Howard. Howard was once again the American man of the match and was singlehandedly keeping the Americans in the game once again.
The Americans continued their positive attacking approach and posed a threat on the break with their pace but they were disrupted by injury to Fabian Johnson who limped off with a hamstring injury after half an hour.
He was replaced by the equally fast DeAndre Yedlin who continued to provide a useful attacking outlet down the US right, unemcumbered by Eden Hazard who did little in the way of tracking back.
Graham Zusi was also guilty of neglecting his tracking back duties which allowed Jan Vertonghen to join in for Belgium’s attacks, providing a threat from the left flank.
The attacking might have been end to end but the finishing wasn’t the best quality on the night.
Howard was the American hero with saves that went into double figures from Belgian attacks. He denied Dries Mertens, De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Origi several times.
Origi saw a shot come off the top of Howard’s crossbar in the 56th minute as Belgium laid siege to the Americans.
Two events lit up a stellar second half after 45 minutes of constant Belgian pressure. A 90th minute attack by Alejandro Bedoya was stopped by Vincent Kompany who started the counter attack from his own area and continued running up field as Belgium passed the ball. He finally arrived in the area just in time to meet a Kevin De Bruyne cross but it was slightly behind his stride and his shot was mistimed and inevitably saved by Howard.
The Americans could have won it in added time at the end of 90 minutes but Chris Wondolowski was wrongly flagged offside when Geoff Cameron’s lob was flicked into the path of the US sub. Replays showed he was onside – played on by Toby Alderweireld – but Wondolowski had already shanked the shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
The Belgians had noted the goal warning and started Extra Time with Romelu Lukaku who replaced Divock Origi. Lukaku hadn’t impressed much in his appearances earlier in the tournament but soon made up for lost time with a match winning cameo.
Lukaku stormed down the US right in the space vacated by DaMarcus Beasley and laid the ball off for De Bruyne who made space after retrieving an attempted clearance and fired in the vital goal for Belgium to break the deadlock at the 32nd attempt.
Howard couldn’t keep out the winner by Lukaku when Belgium counter attacked in the 105th minute and De Bruyne slipped a great pass to Lukaku who swept a rising shot past the American ‘keeper.
The story wasn’t over, however, as Julian Green volleyed a Bradley pass from over his shoulder to get the Americans back into the game with 13 minutes to go and Jermaine Jones could have levelled matters just two minutes later but stabbed his shot wide.
The Americans racked up seven out of their 17 chances on goal in the last 15 minutes as they fought to get level.
A superb short free kick routine ended with Clint Dempsey through on goal and just Thibault Courtois to beat but the keeper denied him after the American’s first touch allowed the ball to roll too close to the advancing Belgian.
It was then Belgian’s turn to reel at the late American attacks but they somehow managed to survive the onslaught.