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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

July 1, 2014
END OF THE LINE
Howard's brilliant performance can't stop Belgium from eliminating USA from World Cup, 2-1

By Michael Lewis
Big Apple Soccer Editor

Tim Howard's 16 saves weren't enough to get the USA past Belgium and into the World Cup quarterfinals.
Tim Howard's 16 saves weren't enough to get the USA past Belgium and into the World Cup quarterfinals.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
SALVADOR, Brazil – One of the great World Cup goalkeeping performances of all time helped keep the United States in its Round of 16 game with Belgium on Tuesday night.

Tim Howard was magnificent, making save after save to keep the Americans alive. However, as brilliant as he was, Howard wasn’t perfect.

Howard couldn’t stop two shots in extra time.

Kevin De Bruyne’s eight-yard shot three minutes into extra time gave the Belgians a one-goal advantage. Romelu Lukaku added a goal in the 105th minute, which lifted the Belgians to a 2-1 victory before a crowd of 51,227 at Arena Fonte Nova.

The Belgians will move on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals in Brasila on Saturdayy. The Argentines secured a 1-0 win over Switzerland on an extra time goal by Angel Di Maria several hours earlier.

De Bruyne, who was frustrated by Howard for most of the match, finally solved his foe in the 92nd minute. Lukaku, who had replaced Divock Origi at the start of the first extra time period, managed to get around center back Matt Besler, who slipped, at midfield. He raced down the right side and crossed the ball into the middle. The ball went off an American defender to De Bruyne, whose right-footed effort beat Howard to the far left side for the game's first goal in the 93rd minute.

After Lukaku gave the Belgians a two-goal cushion, Julian Green made his World Cup debut a memorable one, scoring only minutes after replacing Alejandro Bedoya in extra time. Green latched onto a Michael Bradley air ball and volleyed past goalkeeper Tibaut Courtois into the right corner to slice the deficit in half in the 107th minute.

U.S. captain Clint Dempsey had an opportunity to deadlock the game several minutes later, but Courtois denied him from point-blank range.

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a surprising switch to his lineup, sitting down defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman and replacing him with center back Geoff Cameron.

But Cameron wasn't going to play center back as Klinsmann deployed that appeared to be a 4-3-3 formation with Howard manning the net and DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Besler and Fabian Johnson in the back, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Cameron in the middle, and Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi up front. But given what Klinsmann had deployed in the past, Dempsey, the captain, probably would be the point man with Bedoya and Zusi playing attacking wings on offense and running back to play defense.

In other words, the formation morphed into a 4-5-1 alignment when defending or a 4-3-2-1 when on attack.

Cameron, who made a blunder that led to Portugal's first goal in its 2-2 Group G tie with the USA, himself was benched for Gonzalez for the 1-0 loss to Germany in the group finale. Gonzalez played well enough in that game to earn another start in the middle of defense.

In many respects, the first half resembled the Germany game. The opposition enjoyed a sizeable possession advantage and placed more dangerous opportunities on goal.

The Belgians came out flying as Origi tested Howard in the first minute but the keeper turned away his shot from the left side. Barely a minute later, DeBruyne sent his attempt wide left of the USA goal.

The Americans' dangerous forays into Belgium's defensive third was few and far between. With the match six minutes old, Beasley, on an overlap on the left side, tried a shot that sailed over the crossbar, the USA's first attempt.

The match was delayed for about 40 seconds in the 16th minute when a fan wearing a blue shirt ran onto the field and pranced around until security personnel escorted him off the pitch. Two minutes later, Cameron was assessed a yellow card for tripping Dries Mertens at midfield.

After the Belgians failed to clear a corner kick the USA had its best chance of the half in the 21st minute when Dempsey, off a Bradley feed, fired a dangerous shot from 12 yards that goalkeeper Courtois caught.

Belgium came back with a close encounter in the 23rd minute when DeBruyne penetrated into the penalty area and drilled a shot wide left with Howard on the ground.

On an overlapping run, Belgian left back Jan Vertonghen might have had the best opportunity of the match as he launched a shot that Beasley managed to save off the line in 26th minute.

The Americans suffered a blow as their best attacking defender, right back Fabian Johnson was forced out of the match with an injury in the 31st minute. He was replaced by DeAndre Yedlin.

Howard continued to be at the top of his game, denying DeBruyne off a quick counter a minute into stoppage time after the Belgians stymied a USA corner kick.

Two minutes into the second half, Howard was up to the task again, parrying over a long-range header by Mertens. In the 54th minute, Vertonghen, on an overlapping run crossed a tantalizing ball from the left flank that skipped past two teammates in the box.

The Belgians continued to push forward as they came close again in the 56th minute. This time Origi headed the ball that hit the top of the bar and bounced harmlessly out of bounds. Only a minute later, Howard managed a kick save on a Vertonghen attempt from the left side.

The Americans actually attempted a shot in the 71st minute when Dempsey placed a rather pedestrian effort on goal that Courtiois had no trouble gathering in.

Not surprisingly, Howard was at it again, this time producing a spectacular kick save on Origi, who shot from the right side.

In an attempt to get some fresh legs and a goal-scorer into the lineup, Klinsmann pulled Zusi for Chris Wondolowski in the 72nd minute.

In the 76th,, Howard kept up his brilliant display with a spectacular kick save on an onrushing Kevin Mirallas in the penalty areak to keep the game scoreless.

And Howard was at it again in the 79th minute, punching away Eden Hazard’s effort from the left side.

Origi again tried to solve the USA keeper, this time from just outside the penalty arc, but Howard tipped his try over the bar in the 85th minute.

Vincent Kompany tried to solve Howard in the 90th minute, but the keeper pushed away his one-bouncer.

On the other side of the pitch, Wondolowski almost had an opportunity to play hero for the Americans. After taking a Jones feed, the San Jose Earthquakes striker struck a six-yard shot that he sent over Courtois and over the net three minutes into stoppage time.
   
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