Belgium have booked their place in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, surviving a last-gasp fight-back to beat the USA 2-1 in extra time at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador this morning.
Claiming a perfect record of three wins from three starts and progressing to the Round of 16 atop Group H, Belgium were expected to be pushed by a United States team who also ensured qualification earlier than required.
Needing to lay similar pressure from the opening whistle to that which delivered a position in the Round of 16, The USA burst from the gates and immediately pushed into the Belgian half; unlucky not to find the back of the net from several opportunities in the first 15 minutes.
When US defender Fabian Johnson was forced from the pitch with a hamstring injury in the 32nd minute, momentum had undoubtedly shifted in the Red Devils favour, who maintained possession through the midfield and allowed their strikers several key opportunities on goal – surprisingly to no avail.
Returning from the break still locked in a scoreless stalemate, Belgium immediately took up dictating the play, holding the pressure on the Stars and Stripes but still appearing to lack a final touch; several key opportunities only halted by the quick reflexes of goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Approaching the end of regular time, both teams appeared to find an extra gear; contesting an exciting end-to-end style of play however as the 90th minute appeared and passed, arguably only one outcome was warranted; that being 30 minutes of extra time.
Substituting Romelu Lukaku for a noticeably tiring Divock Origi in the 91st minute, Manager Marc Wilmots’ decision became a masterstroke when just three minutes later the Everton man played a key role in an impressive goal to Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne.
Continuing to hold the pressure and allowing the United States just the occasional counter, Belgium were unlucky not to find the net again via an Eden Hazard howler which just skimmed over the bar.
Entering the final minute of the first half of extra time, the Red Devils launched one final assault on the US goal and were rewarded in the best way possible – Lukaku finishing off an impressive move to all but lock up the result for his nation.
While United States heads dropped in the stands and on the pitch, an impressive striker from Julian Green in the 107th minute pegged one for the Stars and Stripes; reinvigorating their confidence and making the next 15 minutes some of the most exciting of the 2014 World Cup to date.
Hitting the crossbar twice, the United States were unlucky not to force penalties and bowed out of what has largely been a successful tournament.
Belgium will now face Argentina in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, who secured a tight 1-0 victory over Switzerland to book their place in the final eight.