A thrilling, breathtaking, heartbreaking battle in Salvador sees an exhausted United States fight for survival against a ruthless Belgium whose individual quality and relentless shooting eventually won the day. Even with Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku coming off the bench, Tim Howard stood firm making a total of 16 saves, the most in a World Cup since the stats were first recorded in 1966. Another memorable night in an unforgettable tournament.
GOAL! Kevin De Bruyne (BEL) 93rd min. Romelu Lukaku muscled off Matt Besler and ran into space on the right flank. He passed to Kevin De Bruyne on the left of the area. The American defender however ran around De Bruyne and the redhead scored on a pinpoint angle past Tim Howard in the first half of extra time!
GOAL! Romelu Lukaku (BEL) 105th min. A reverse of the first goal, De Bruyne played in Lukaku surging down the left flank, who made no mistake in sending the ball past a tiring Tim Howard. Belgium seemed to have finally buried the United States after a heroic performance.
GOAL! Julian Green (USA) 107th min. Or have they? The much-maligned Michael Bradley finds the freshly subbed on youngster in space running the middle of the Belgian defence and shanks in past Courtois. Suddenly the game comes roaring to life for the final 13 minutes.
The Man of the Match - Tim Howard
Tim Howard did more for the US than any other keeper could reasonably be asked. With an exhausted Gonzalez and Besler doing their level best in front of him, he broke a World Cup record in the process, stopping shot after shot after shot and somehow keeping the U.S. in the game despite a wildly lopsided attack for large stretches. His performance in this game should go down as one of the best individual goalkeeping displays in World Cup history.
After Fabian Johnson pulled up with a hamstring, forced off for the excellent DeAndre Yedlin in fullback, questions over the United States’ fitness preparation under Klinsmann will no doubt come up again once the dust settles on tonight’s incredible match. With the exception of DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Bradley, most of the team looked gassed even before extra time. Though the team had a difficult travel schedule, they only had a few days off training while in Brazil. The inquest begins tomorrow.
What did Belgium do to win?
Belgium set up very well against the United States, playing slightly more deep to use the pace of the 19 year old Divock Origi on the flank to break past a slightly off the pace U.S. defense. Kevin De Bruyne helped make a big difference with some excellent diagonal runs, and save for some dodgy finishing at times and the excellent one man backline of Tim Howard, Marc Wilmots' team would have run away with result in regular time. That and a packed Belgian bench made the difference against a tiring United States.
The United States leave the World Cup with their heads held high, although the jury’s still out on Jurgen Klinsmann, though his decision to sub on Julian Green late will win him some points. The U.S. program still has a lot of work to do as they were absolutely dominated by a very talented Belgium side, but their work rate was incredible.
Belgium meanwhile are riding that dark horse and could unsettle a very mixed bag in Argentina, particularly if their central defenders stay healthy.
The 1,000 Words
Chris Wondolowski appeared to miss a sitter late in regular time when the score was tied 0-0, but the goal, which he shanked above the net, wouldn’t have counted as the linesman incorrectly ruled it offside.
DeAndre Yedlin and Divock Origi both gave some incredible performances. Particularly Yedlin, who filled in for the injured Fabian Johnson without missing a beat, running the length of the pitch and providing a fulcrum for the U.S. attack.
Jermaine Jones was tired, giving up possession in attack and falling down like a sack of potatoes on about a million occasions.
Another incredible World Cup game. Maybe the best of the tournament?
Feature photo courtesy of Action Images/Andrew Couldridge