Going into this game, the Round of 16 had seen all 7 group winners make it through to the quarter-finals and this game completed the octuplet. The USA fought the good fight again, taking the Belgians to extra-time before allowing a crack in their armor. America even staged a come-back at 2-0 down with 15 minutes to play, showing more of the heart that had brought them this far.
Formation and line-up changes
Jurgen Klinsmann made an unexpected change to his starting line-up dropping Kyle Beckerman and moving Geoff Cameron up to midfield. Gonzalez and Besler occupied the center of the defense.
Belgium were hugely buoyed by the return of their inspirational captain, Vincent Kompany, and they immediately displayed a return to the form seen in their qualification campaign, where they stormed their UEFA group. In Brazil, they have operated at more of a canter but they came alive in this game right from the off, creating a very open and exciting game of football. USA looked lively too, even if they were at times struggling to match the quality of Belgium’s passing game.
Johnson injury and still no Beckerman
Fabian Johnson’s World Cup came to an abrupt end 30 minutes into the game when he pulled up with a hamstring injury. The expectation was that Beckerman would resume his role and Cameron would fill in at right-back, but Klinsmann, bold as ever, opted for the youngster, DeAndre Yedlin. The 20-year-old Seattle Sounder has played on the right side of midfield in his previous 2 appearances in this World Cup, but reverted to his position at club level today. The decision by the German manager was a very audacious one, with Eden Hazard to mark out on that wing.
End-to-end relentless action
The game grew and grew as it went on and it could quite easily have been a ten-goal thriller, if the back-lines hadn’t performed so well. On another day, Hazard, De Bruyne, and Origi could’ve had a hat-trick each with the attacking pressure they exerted, but this day in World Cup history was destined to only see 4 goals in all.
Howard the Magnificent
Tim Howard smashed the record saves so far this tournament, in a simply scintillating performance to repeatedly deny and frustrate Belgium. In fact, he made more saves than any previous World Cup game in the last 50 years.
The defense in front of him were also on spectacular form, keeping so much pressure at bay and time-after-time putting in perfectly timed tackles in their own penalty area.
De Bruyne opens the scoring at last
Belgium’s quality shone through for them in extra-time, with USA exhausted from putting in such a demanding shift and suffering from a forced substitution through injury. Wondowloski had also come on for Graham Zusi, who had a disappointing game today, leaving USA with only one more change available.
Belgium’s fresh legs of Lukaku created the opportunity, bursting down the right wing and getting a lucky break when Beasley was caught out of position and Besler lost his footing after sprinting over to provide cover. The Everton loanee stormed into the box and, confronted with the familiar face of Tim Howard, he selflessly passed to De Bruyne. USA defenders crowded him out, but his control of the ball and composure in front of goal proved too much to contain.
Heartbroken, but never willing to thrown in the towel, USA were then stung again as they tried to push for an equalizer. Lukaku popped up on the left wing this time, now switching roles and being supplied by De Bruyne, finishing it with a powerfully struck shot past Howard.
No minutes for club but World Cup goal for country
Julian Green has not managed a single minute on the field yet for his club Bayern Munich, but had a fantastic season for the reserves, and now he has topped it off by scoring at the World Cup and very nearly saving the US plight on the brink of exit.
Straight from kicking off the second half of extra-time, Michael Bradley floated in a sublime ball over the Belgian defensive line, flawlessly weighted into the path of Green’s run. The 19-year-old timed it to perfection and, with his very first touch of the game, fired it past Courtois to bring the game back to life.
USA continued to push, but so too did Belgium, and the game remained thrilling, however no further twists could be eked out. USA very nearly managed the impossible comeback with a very clever attempt to sneak through the Belgian defense from a free-kick, but Courtois pulled off an extraordinary save to safeguard the win for the Red Devils.
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