BELGIANS ADVANCE FROM AMERICAN EPIC

Jul 02, 2014 Posted Under: News

Substitute Romelu Lukaku made the difference for Belgium as they defeated USA 2-1 after extra time to book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The forward had been left on the bench for a second consecutive game by coach Marc Wilmots, but was introduced at 90 minutes and instantly gave his side a boost, creating the first for former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne before netting the second himself.

America responded with a goal of their own to take the contest to the wire, but the Belgians, who had been the better side over the 120 minutes, held on to book a quarter-final place with Argentina.

Lukaku’s fellow Blue Thibaut Courtois started in goal in search of his third consecutive clean sheet, while Eden Hazard was in his familiar left-wing position.

The Belgians almost went in front inside the first minute, with Lukaku’s replacement for their third group game Divock Origi foiled in a one-on-one by USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, while at the other end Courtois had to wait until the 20-minute mark before his first major contribution, saving from Clint Dempsey.

Thibaut-Courtois - Chelsea and Belgium

Former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne dragged wide for Belgium when well placed, but then combined well on the break with Hazard before the Chelsea Player of the Year was crowded out on the edge of the American area.

De Bruyne forced Howard into action at the end of the first half with a rather more well struck effort from distance, and just into the second period a Dries Mertens header had the Everton man concerned as he tipped a flicked header behind for a corner.

You could sense the European side, the favourites on the night, getting closer, but they could not find a way past the inspired Howard.

First, Toby Aldeweireld crossed for Origi who headed onto the bar, then the keeper saved from Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen before the full-back volleyed over with a speculative effort and Mertens flicked just wide.

The Belgians continued to threaten as America tired and dropped deeper. Axel Witsel fired wide from outside the box and then Howard denied Origi.

Seventeen minutes from time Dempsey brought Courtois back into employment with a left-footed drive, which the Chelsea goalkeeper dealt with easily.

Eden-Hazard - Chelsea and Belgium

Shortly afterwards Hazard showed his work ethic by winning the ball deep inside his own half before feeding Origi in the US half. The youngster slipped in Mirallas, but Howard was out quickly to foil his Everton team-mate.

Hazard almost nicked it with three minutes remaining but drove into the side-netting, and then Belgium captain Vincent Kompany forced another fine save from Howard with injury time looming. In that three-minute period, American sub Chris Wondolowski lifted the ball over the bar from close range when he should have netted. An errant offside flag spared the forward’s blushes.

So it was to extra time. Belgian coach Marc Wilmots called for Lukaku, who replaced Origi in attack. Hazard also switched, into the centre with De Bruyne moving left.

The impact of the change was felt immediately.

It took just two minutes for Lukaku to burst away down the right, bustling his marker off the ball before cutting inside and pulling back. De Bruyne picked up the loose ball, danced around a defender and fired low across Howard into the bottom corner.

Lukaku brought two further saves from Howard, a team-mate at Everton last season, after twice shooting low on the turn towards the near post.

The number 9 with fresh legs was proving the difference, and it was he who would strike the decisive second for the Belgians, hammering home after De Bruyne had released him.

The US gave themselves hope just into the second half of extra time though when their own sub Julian Green, who volleyed home from close quarters from a lofted Michael Bradley pass.

Jermaine Jones then prodded just wide after Wondolowski had knocked down, and Lukaku almost forced a Belgian third with his perseverance, only to see Howard save low down with his legs.

With 10 minutes remaining, Hazard was replaced by Tottenham’s Nacer Chadli, but now it was Jurgen Klinsmann’s side pouring forward and Courtois had to save bravely at the feet of Dempsey to deny a certain equaliser.

As the minutes ticked away, so the excitement and the tension grew, but in the end it was Belgium who emerged victorious at the end of yet another World Cup classic.

It takes another three Chelsea men into the last eight, and this wonderful Brazilian adventure continues.

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