They may have survived the group of death, but their toughest match would come in the knockout stages. In their second consecutive appearance in the knockout rounds of the World Cup, the United States came up short against Belgium losing 2-1 in extra time. The Yanks fought hard, nearly stealing the game before the final whistle, but the Belgians proved to be the better side in the end; outshooting the U.S. 38 to 15.
Absent from the U.S. lineup was Jozy Altidore. The physical striker was not included in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting 11, even though he stated he would be ready to go after injuring his leg in the first game against Ghana. Belgians Marouane Fellaini and captain Vincent Kompany would start the game even though their fitness was in question prior to Tuesday’s match.
USA started off much differently than the Germany game. The attack was more in sync and didn’t start the game off on their heels in Thursday’s 1-0 defeat. There was vast creativity in the attacking third and the Americans were actually able to get shots on frame. The Belgians matched the Yanks’ intensity though. They shot early and often, attacking from everywhere near the American penalty area. Tim Howard was not the only one preventing goals, but DaMarcus Beasley and Geoff Cameron too.
The U.S. suffered an early loss in the first half when right back Fabian Johnson was subbed off from an apparent hamstring injury in the 31st minute. DeAndre Yedlin came in for the speedy defender and immediately made an impression from his first touch. He continued the game as Johnson would, making streaking runs from the right side and joining in on the American attack, nearly setting up goals via Clint Dempsey’s head on multiple occasions.
The Belgians would attack, then the Americans. Each side had decent chances, each goalkeeper made important saves, but the score would remain deadlocked at 0-0 going into halftime. Belgium’s most threatening player, Eden Hazard, was well contained by the U.S. defense. Whenever he was in control of the ball, he faced multiple white shirts who denied him the opportunity to get past. It seemed as if soccer fans were in for the fifth game of the knockout stages headed for extra time.
The second half began and Belgium came out swinging. The aggressors came at Tim Howard with what seems like all 11 players. The U.S. failed to make even a mildly threatening attack, squandering control of the ball almost as soon as they received it as Belgium controlled the majority of the possession; it was like the Germany game all over again.
Belgium’s long spells of possession and onslaught of shots continued for the rest of regular time. Team U.S.A. were able to get shots on frame, but the long arms of Thibaut Courtois denied them each time. When the Americans had the ball, the Belgians were hot on their heels. Team U.S.A. had a slight edge on the possession, but it hardly seemed that way. Substitute Kevin Mirallas tormented the American defense as soon as he stepped onto the field. You could smell a goal from Belgium coming, you just didn’t know exactly when.
Shot after shot, corner kick after corner kick, Belgium didn’t allow any room to breath. Every American shooting chance was met with a Belgian counter attack, each more dangerous than the previous. They were aggressive in every aspect of the game, but Howard held his line time and again. The American goalie would end up as the Man of the Match, saving 16 Belgian shots throughout the duration of the game.
After facing 20 shots on goal, the Americans found the final surge of energy in the closing moments of stoppage time. A poor clearance gave the U.S. one final chance to steal the game. Jermaine Jones headed the ball down to a wide-open Chris Wondolowski, who completely whiffed the shot as the ball went harmlessly out of bounds. Much like the previous games in the round of 16, there would be an extra 30 minutes needed to find a winner.
The slip by Wondolowski would prove to be costly early on as Belgium finally got the break they needed. Romelu Lukaku fed Kevin De Bruyne in the box, who danced around a pair of U.S. defenders to sneak in the go-ahead goal far post. Three minutes into extra time, the United States were scrambling to keep their World Cup going by finding a bit of luck. It would not come as Lukaku scored Belgium’s second goal in the 105th minute. Howard’s teammate at Everton would burn him and the Americans twice in quick succession.
In a move perhaps conceding defeat, Klinsmann subbed on 18-year-old Julian Greene slightly before the second half of extra time. The youngster dazzled, scoring a beautiful volley two minutes into his first ever World Cup game. The U.S. fans came alive in Salvador, hopeful for an equalizer which nearly came from a beautifully set up set piece. There were chances, but the Americans were prevented from forcing a shootout.
In the end, for the exception of the closing minutes, Belgium was by far the better team. The United States were so close from their second World Cup quarterfinal appearance ever, but failed to make the most of their opportunities. Michael Bradley, who had been one of the best players throughout the qualifying stages, once again failed to impress in another World Cup game. Even though they lost, the U.S. gave a respectable finish to the game. The quality of play shown in the final 15 minutes was needed much earlier. As the Americans go home, Belgium will face Lionel Messi and Argentina in the quarterfinals on Saturday.