VfL Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne broke American hearts Tuesday in the opening minutes of overtime with a devastating 1-0 strike in the box.
At the time, the United States still had 20 minutes to find an equalizer if it hoped to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals in Brazil. As Belgium is prone to do with its dribble-heavy brand of soccer, De Bruyne lulled a gaggle of U.S. defenders into the corner then crossed his body and snuck one past Tim Howard, who set a career high for saves with 12 during regulation.
Romelu Lukaku then broke the United States’ back with a 2-0 point blank, merciless strike on a counter attack in the 107th minute of extra time. Forced to play forward, Belgium’s possession-oriented game regained the ball and mechanically moved it into the white of Howard’s eyes. A noble regulation effort appeared to be on its last legs.
But the United States still had time. Teenager Julian Green, a product of the world-leading Bayern Munich farm system, came on late to take a beautiful cross in, and bang it home on a solo touch over 22-year-old phenom keeper, Thibaut Courtois, of Chelsea.
The United States trailed Belgium 2-1 in the round of 16, and it had one more period to equalize.
In the end, the U.S. had a couple of stop-your-heart chances to tie the game, but it wasn’t enough to continue the team’s thrilling run.
The U.S. was eliminated after a brave but short 2-1 loss at the hands of Belgium and its roster of elite English Premier League talent. The U.S. kept a clean sheet after 90 minutes of play, but the 30 minutes of extra time harbored three pinball goals that fell like lightning.
Its best hope for an equalizing goal came in the closing minutes of extra time off a gorgeously intricate set play that saw Jermaine Jones run off the ball before Michael Bradley chipped a three-touch play that could have culminated with a through pass to a wide open Clint Dempsey. The ball fell almost too perfectly on Dempsey’s foot, and the U.S. captain reacted with one extra dribble that cost him an open strike.
Belgium, for its part, controlled possession but failed to find the back of the net.
“You get the feeling that it’s your day,” a spirited Ian Darke said on ESPN. It almost was—the United States survived the storm only to see the surface and get swept away in one unexpected wave. Credit Belgian coach Marc Wilmots for subbing in benched but responsive superstar striker, Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea, who seemed to bury the U.S. in the Arena Fonta Nova with what would be the winning goal in the 105th minute.
Belgium plays Argentina in the quarterfinals Saturday.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons