SALVADOR, BRAZIL – For a full 90 minutes, Belgium’s almost relentless attack added up to nothing in the face of Tim Howard.
Only in extra time was the superb United States goalkeeper finally beaten.
Kevin De Bruyne turned Howard’s heroic night into defeat on Tuesday when he scored an extra-time goal and then set up Romelu Lukaku for another to give Belgium a 2-1 victory over the Americans. The Belgians’ reward is a quarterfinal match against Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates on Saturday in Brasilia.
“For my heart, please don’t give me too many games like this,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. “He (Howard) was in a state of grace.”
Belgium’s unyielding attacks for the full 90 minutes of regulation time only highlighted the great performance of the 35-year-old Howard, but the goalkeeper’s teammates finally wilted in the evening heat once extra time came.
“They were all on their limit,” United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “(Howard) had an absolutely amazing match.”
Three minutes into the extra period, Lukaku found space on the right and passed into the center. At first, the ball was poked out before De Bruyne gained possession. Belgium’s creative genius still had the energy for a sharp turn and his low shot finally missed the yellow foot of Howard and settled inside the post.
Realizing he had finally been beaten, Howard fell back on the grass almost in slow-motion, arms and legs outstretched and eyes staring up into the darkness over the Arena Fonte Nova. The best man of the match turned out to be on the losing side.
In the 105th minute, Belgium looked like it had put the game away. De Bruyne launched Lukaku into open space on the left and the Everton striker beat his club teammate with a drive to the near post.
The Americans got late hope when Julian Green pulled one back in the 107th minute with a perfect volley on the turn that Thibaut Courtois could only touch before he saw it fly into his net.
Klinsmann started wildly shouting with flailing arms “Come on, come on,” and there was a new team on the field.
Now, it was the Belgium’s turn to be caught flat-footed.
With six minutes to go, the Americans almost got the equalizer. A free kick move set Clint Dempsey free in the center with only Courtois to beat. But the Belgium ‘keeper proved he is one of the world’s best by spreading his giant body to smother the shot.
“The second extra time was a total turnaround. Suddenly, they had all the energy,” De Bruyne said.
With waves of chants of “USA, USA” echoing around the 48,000-seat stadium, the reinvigorated Americans kept searching for a late goal right up until the final whistle.
It never came.
“It was a game that just went to the extreme,” Klinsmann said. “We just needed a little bit more luck.”
Howard’s efforts praised
Salvador, Brazil — Belgium may have deservedly reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup with a 2-1 win over the United States on Tuesday, but it was American goalkeeper Tim Howard that stole the show with arguably one of the most memorable performances in the history of the tournament.
Howard, 35, almost singlehandedly kept the Belgians at bay with a series of stops before he was eventually beaten as Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring in the third minute of extra time, and Romelu Lukaku scored what proved to be the clincher in the 105th minute.
The Everton ‘keeper made 15 saves and in the process set a new World Cup record for saves since such statistics were first collected in 1966. Peru’s Ramon Quiroga held the previous best with 13 against Holland in 1978.
That Belgium had 27 shots out of 38 on target tells its own story and Howard was deservedly hailed a hero by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
“The way Tim played tonight was phenomenal. He was outstanding and kept us in the game. We knew going forward sooner or later we would have our chances too, but he had an absolutely amazing match tonight,” said the German coach.
“The longer he keeps you in the game, the more you hope that it gives us some breaks here to move forward and find our own chances, which we collected the more the game moved on.
“That is what you want to build on, at the back of Tim basically, getting back in the game and finding opportunities to score. These games are decided by little, little things and thanks to Tim we had a possibility for 120 minutes. This was an amazing performance and he should be proud of himself, and we are proud to have him with us.”