World Cup: Brave USMNT are out after Belgium defeat

After a passionate and resilient performance, the USMNT, who have exceeded the expectations of many at this World Cup, are heading home after a 2-1 defeat to Belgium in extra time.

The US goalkeeper, Tim Howard, made a series of spectacular saves to deny Belgium but two goals in extra time put the game beyond the US.

It was Belgium who made the better start in Salvador, they threatened to take the lead in the first minute when Divock Origi got behind the USA defence and forced a save from Howard.

The US’s first chance came after 20 minutes when some neat passing between Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey lead to the ball falling for Dempsey 18 yards out but his shot was comfortably saved.

The game remained open going into halftime with both sides looking dangerous but neither side being able to break down the opposition defence.

In the opening minutes of the second half Howard was called into action again, this time dramatically diving to touch Dries Mertens’ looping header over the bar.

Belgium threatened further when a perfect cross from Jan Vertonghen was missed in the middle by Kevin De Bruyne and Origi, any touch would have put them ahead.

The chances kept coming for the reds, Origi’s header hit the bar, Vertonghen fired his volley over the bar and then forced another save from Howard.

Despite the fact that Belgium were starting to take charge the US remained composed, they soaked up the pressure and kept up the never say die attitude that has been typical of the side at this competition.

Howard frustrated Origi further when Eden Hazard’s long run ended up with the Belgian striker one on one, the US keeper blocked the shot with his legs.

The 35 year old US keeper had chosen the highest stage to have one of the greatest games of his career and came to the rescue for his side again as Kevin Mirallas latched onto the ball behind the defence, his shot was forced wide by yet another extraordinary Howard save.

But the heroics did not end there for Howard, with just 10 minutes left of normal time he made yet another spectacular save, this time denying Hazard’s curling strike.

Enough world class saves yet? How about another in the final minute of the game, Vincent Kompany mishit his shot and a diving Howard denied Belgium again, his tenth save of the game.

With that the 90 minutes were over and with the scores level the teams braced themselves for the 30 minutes of extra time.

For all their frustration in normal time Belgium would not be denied long extra time, just three minutes into the first period substitute Romelu Lukaku got away down the right, found De Bruyne with his cross and the 23 year old fired the his shot into the net, finally beating Howard.

The USMNT’s tired legs were punished again before the end of the 1st period of extra time, De Bruyne pass found Lukaku who smashed his shot into the net to make it 2-0 and give the US a mountain to climb in the second period.

But the second period started with fireworks for the US when Julian Green, who had been substituted on just three minutes before, volleyed the ball past Thibaut Courtois to make the score 2-1.

Just two minutes later the US had the chance to draw the scores level when the ball fell for Jermaine Jones in the box but he could only send his toe-poke agonisingly wide.

A frantic and fast paced second period was to follow and the US threatened again when a neat bit of passing from a free kick lead to a big chance for Dempsey but Courtois was out quickly to smother the shot to safety.

In the end a desperate US could not find the equaliser that would have completed an extraordinary comeback and it will be Belgium who go on to face Argentina on 5th July while the Jurgen Klinsmann’s men go home.

Howard finished the game with 15 saves, the highest total ever recorded in the history of the World Cup.

All things considered this has been a good tournament for the US. Not many gave them a chance in a group which featured Portugal and Germany but a late winner in their opening game against Ghana set the tone. A late equaliser denied what would have been a famous win against Portugal before a defeat to group winners Germany.

In the evolution of football in the US this tournament could be a turning point, at Brazil 2014 the USMNT showed that they are more than a nation that doesn’t take the world’s most popular sport seriously in support as well as performance.

They showed that they are a force to be reckoned with, a contender on the national stage, a side that stayed in the tournament longer than England, Portugal, Chile and World Champions Spain and where just a toe poke and a penalty shoot out away from joining the world’s last eight.