The final R/16 match, the winner would be welcomed by Argentina. The entertaining USA would be entertaining Belgium and there was lots at stake. Pride, reputation and most importantly, a chance to join the elite 8.
Belgium’s golden generation earned the chance to live up to their billing as they reached a first World Cup quarter-final for 28 years with an extra-time win over the USA in Salvador.
This was another brilliant and breathless occasion. Belgium walk away deserving winners but only after a performance of incredible spirit and bravery from the US. This was a battle of flair against function. Belgium, with their jet-heeled forwards and unquestioned technical superiority, against the organisation and energy of the United States.
This match was like almost every other quarter final. Goalless at half time and then at full time. Belgium had the majority of the chances, Kevin De Bruyne having a mesmerising game and doing everything he could in his power to break the deadlock. Vincent Kompany was phenomenal and Thibaut Courtois seemed assured. Dries Mertens was probably the only shimmer of hope apart from their #7. With Lukaku benched for 19 year old Origi, Belgium did look sharp and had opportunities, all saved by Tim Howard. It was a super performance by the Everton keeper and he made himself and his nation proud. The US gave an insipid display against Marc Wilmots’ men and Jurgen Klinsmann’s men survived so long owed everything to an outstanding goalkeeping performance by Tim Howard, who made a record number of saves in a World Cup match. In front of him, his team-mates were simply outclassed.
The US were reliant on Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to create their best moments and the pair combined to test Courtois just before half-time.
If the US had been second best in the first half, they hung on in the second. Belgium monopolised possession as the US dropped deeper and deeper. Toby Alderweireld was finding space down the right from where he delivered a cross that Origi headed onto the top of Howard’s crossbar. Hazard went close with flick soon after, and the introduction of substitute Kevin Mirallas only reinforced Belgium’s dominance. He scythed through the US defence, the ball running to Origi, whose shot was beaten away by Howard. Moments later, Howard was sprawling low to flick a shot away from Mirallas, his Everton team-mate, before Hazard drew another brilliant save. The US had a few chances, nothing serious, just mere half chances.
Somehow, the US got over the line and into extra time – but the respite was brief. On came Romelu Lukaku at extra time and his impact was immediate. He burst down the right and although his cross-shot was blocked by Matt Besler, De Bruyne pounced on the loose ball, found a yard of space and shot unerringly into the far corner.
De Bruyne then turned provider to find Chelsea striker, who turned the ball into the net with a brilliant finish at the near post.
With the US apparently dead and buried, there was a twist in the tale. Green, on as a substitute, latched onto Bradley’s floated pass and fired a stunning volley beyond Courtois with practically his first touch of the match. The game led to a nailbiting finish, but Belgium held on and won the game. Thoroughly deserved as they had outclassed The US, not only tactically, but also physically.
Belgium will now play Argentina in a mouth-watering quarter-final in Brasilia on Saturday. On this evidence, they will take some beating.
Our Man Of The Match:Kevin De Bruyne
Did his best to try and feed Origi but due to the numbers in defence found it difficult. He shot from range all evening and eventually got his goal in extra time before assisting the second.Along with Romelu Lukaku, his impact was enormous and he made the small difference eventually and hence we rate him our MOTM.
FIFA Man Of The Match: Tim Howard (US Missile Defence System)
Made an extremely important save in the first minute to keep Origi at bay, and it was followed by a string of brilliant stops throughout the night. Without him the match would have ended after 60 minutes. He managed to save 16 shots, a World Cup record, his only happiness in a sour display by his team.
Our Flop Of The Match: Matt Besler
Was caught out by Origi’s pace in the first minute and found it difficult to deal with for the rest of the night. Dived in on Lukaku ahead of the opener but was impressive in the air. Wasn’t rock solid in defence and was key to Howard being forced to make so many saves.
Tim Howard was fabulous and his saves have become quite an internet sensation. Here are a few of the best memes…