World Cup Blog: Belgium vs USA
08:20 02 July 2014
Group H winners Belgium were hoping to make it eight out of eight for the top teams last night - with all seven before them having progressed to the quarter finals.
Standing in their way were a much-lauded USA team, who have won the hearts of many neutrals (English people) with their work rate, determination and lack of star names.
The two previous last 16 matches had ended goalless, and the pundits were predicting another cagey affair at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
But early on Divock Origi, the teenager handed his start ahead of the so-far disappointing Romelu Lukaku, showed signs of justifying Marc Wilmots’ decision by forcing a save from Tim Howard (not for the last time), though he hit the target, he perhaps should have scored.
The Belgium vs Howard battle would last all of the 90 minutes. The bearded keeper was in fine form, denying Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Vincent Kompany, amongst others.
Dempsey looked the most likely for the States, with his consistently on target efforts bringing assured saves from Thibaut Courtois.
It was a relatively quiet night for Eden Hazard, the strength and intelligence was on show, but the end product was not. He did, however, perform better than his teammate Marouane Fellaini, who, but for his Leo Sayer-esque haircut would have actually been anonymous.
Cue extra time, and the introduction of Romelu Lukaku for the lively but raw Origi.
Within minutes he had proved his point as he burst down the right wing and squared to Kevin De Bruyne, who calmly gave Belgium the lead, firing low into the far corner from a tight(ish) angle.
The USA were on the ropes for the first period of extra time, and looked dead and buried when Lukaku converted the second with a lovely near post finish after being slipped through by De Bruyne.
They looked set to see the game out and, if anything, add to their lead. At half-time they were practically celebrating the win.
But the States weren’t done yet and just minutes after coming on, Julian Green volleyed in after a clipped through ball from Michael Bradley.
On first viewing it undoubtedly had people shouting “worldy” but on the replay, while his technique was undoubtedly on point, the ball also came off the point of his foot and spun into the top corner. Not that he or anyone else cared at the time.
There was one more opportunity for the USA, and it came straight from an American Football-inspired free kick.
A well-worked training ground move left Clint Dempsey, after brilliantly controlling the ball, six yards out. But his tired attempt was stopped by Courtois.
The final whistle blew and the States’ players were in heaps on the floor. (So were some of the Belgians, but they had just played 120 minutes of football.)
The world of football was with them though, after their fine displays throughout the tournament.
Belgium will have to improve in front of goal if they are to beat a dogged Argentina side on Saturday in Brasilia.