The United States took on Belgium in the Round of 16 hoping to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup for the 2nd time in their history.
The US made two chances from the Germany match, with Geoff Cameron coming back into the side, playing as a midfielder this time, and Alejandro Bedoya coming back in for Brad Davies, also in midfield. Jozy Altidore was eligible for selection, but did not start for the USA due to a lack of match fitness. He was to be used only in an emergency, according to USA officials. Eden Hazard and Thibault Courtois, two of Chelsea’s Belgian’s started the match. Romelu Lukaku was on the bench again for the Red Devils. Former Blue Kevin DeBruyne also started for Belgium.
Belgium began attacking quickly and early on, with the USA nearly going down twice early on but Tim Howard was up to the challenge and allowed the United States to attempt to settle their nerves and regain their composure.
The United States did find their composure, and looked to take advantage of their advantages on the wings, who played without any true fullbacks. DeMarcus Beasley and Fabien Johnson would be key in this match, injecting pace and attacking the Belgian defenders playing out of position. Geoff Cameron also started smartly in midfield, looking very comfortable for a center back playing in the middle of the park, while Omar Gonzales and Matt Besler looked composed at the back.
Midway through the first half both teams had exchanged chances, with Belgiums being better overall as a shot from De Bruyne just missed the goal. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley had been linking up well for the USA, however, and they looked dangerous on the attack. DeMarcus Beasley had to make a goal line clearance after a brilliant passing play unlocked the USA back line to keep it level after 25 minutes.
Fabien Johnson pulled up on a run in the 32nd minute, after signalling for a substitute, the US brought on 20 year old DeAndre Yedlin, who was now tasked with marking Eden Hazard, the PFA’s young player of the year. No small task for the youngster, but he stepped up to the plate and performed remarkably well early on, exposing the Belgium back line and providing good crosses into the box.
The match was level and scoreless at the half, which definitely seemed to be a positive for the USA, given how dangerous Belgium looked attacking. The Red Devils must have surely felt they should be up at least one goal, if not two or three. The 2nd half would surely be full of excitement and drama.
Belgium had the first good chance of the 2nd half, but the US still seemed very in the match, countering well and looking to contain the potent Belgian attack. Klinnsman must have implored them to maintain their defensive structure and focus. Tim Howard was very vocal at controlling his back four, as he felt they were letting Eden Hazard through unmarked far too easily and far too often. Belgium was dominating possession, but when the US did have the ball they created a few odd chances, most notably from Graham Zusi in the 58th minute.
Despite being outshot 11 to 3 after an hour of play, the USA was still hungry and putting in a great effort. The players never showed a lack of confidence or belief, and the USA support in the stadium was raucous. US defenders were putting it all on the line to clear every Belgian effort, and getting back up to join the attack. It was a very gritty and determined effort, and keeper Tim Howard maintained his composure on any shots that made it his way.
Chris Wondolowski replaced Graham Zusi in the 72nd minute, hoping to be the attacking change that saw the United States break through. Belgium still looked the team to wager on, and in their previous 3 matches at the World Cup, all of their goals were scored in the 70th minute or later. The US had to focus on maintaining that focus and mentality that got them this far. Again and again the US defenders tracked back and made crucial clearances, in a remarkable showing of focus and determination. These players believed and were ready to show it.
A last minute dying goal was not to be for either side, and it went to extras on a scoreless draw.
Despite the Americans best efforts, early in extra time Belgium finally broke through, with newly subbed on Romelu Lukaku and Kevin DeBruyne linking up, with DeBruyne scoring the goal to put Belgium ahead 1-0 in the 93rd minute. American hearts were broken, and the Belgians believed that would be the winning goal. 10 minutes later, Chelsea’s own Romelu Lukaku fired a rocket above Tim Howard to all but put the nail in the coffin, 2-0 to Belgium at the end of the first half of stoppage time.
And yet, shortly after the start of the 2nd half of stoppage time, Julien Green made a brilliant run and a fantastic finish, 2-1 with 10 minutes left in extra time! The American team had belief again, thanks to the 19 year old Bayern Munich player. One minute later, Jermaine Jones nearly equalized, the shot just missing the net, and the Americans kept their belief.
A very clever free kick nearly saw Clint Dempsey equalize, but Chelsea fans must take heart at the composure of young Thibault Courtois in the dying moments.
The USA mounted a few last ditch chances, and yet that was that. 2-1, and a heartbreaking loss for the Americans.
Chelsea supporters in the USA will (eventually) take heart over the performance of their young Belgians, but right now this loss hurts.
Still, as Ian Darke said late on “If the US are going out, they’re going out on their shield.” Surely they earned the respect of not only their opponents, but some other nations around the world as well.
The Road to 2018 begins now.
Follow us on Twitter at @PrideOLondon
Like us on Facebook at The Pride of London