|USA goalkeeper Tim Howard with Belgium’s Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini,
after the match, in Salvador, on Tuesday
Salvador: Belgium silenced their critics and put behind them a slow start to the World Cup, with coach Marc Wilmots happy with the number of chances created by his team in a 2-1 win against the United States, at the Arena Fonte Nova, here, on Tuesday.
“We had something like 27 chances in the game and we deserved our win. We created a chance after just two minutes and it was some fantastic goalkeeping from Tim Howard that kept us out,” Wilmots told reporters.
“We saw a lot of football from the team in this game. I’d say we played a good game, we were brave and we are into the quarter-finals.”
Belgium had been criticised a bit for failing to live up to expectations at the competition even though they won all their group stage matches. One of those heavily criticised was striker Romelu Lukaku, dropped from the starting XI versus the Americans, but it was his arrival at the start of extra time that finally turned the tide Belgium’s way.
“It was right to criticise him, but I told him that the knockout phase would belong to him… He would have his day,” Wilmots said.
But the heroics of Howard and the plucky fight of the Americans meant the contest was not settled until after two hours of furious football. Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku’s strikes took the Belgians to a position of safety although the United States made one last-ditched effort through Julian Green to stage a comeback.
Wilmots said he almost suffered a heart failure as his side failed to take any of the numerous chances in the 90 minutes, then scoring twice to seemingly settle the game before allowing the United States back into the contest in an edge-of-the-seat finish.
“Usually, at this level of football when you miss that many chances, you don’t advance even if you play fantastically. But we were able to show mental strength and a physical level to see us through,” he said.
“I can believe it was a brilliant game for the spectators to watch, but it wasn’t good for my heart. I said to the players thereafter, ‘Don’t do that to me again’.”
Captain Vincent Kompany defended his teammates, pointing out that their previous opponents had adopted a different approach from the Americans. “You need two teams to produce an exciting match.
“The Americans tried to push forward. That’s all we were asking for. It takes two to tango, and in this match, they wanted the same thing as us… We were impressive going forward. Their ’keeper kept them in it,” he explained.
“The United States came out to win the match rather than avoid defeat. We were then able to take advantage of the extra space,” confirmed De Bruyne. “It was a real pleasure to play such free-flowing football,” he added.
For Daniel Van Buyten, the only deficiency was his teammates’ inability to finish. “We should have killed any suspense in the game early on,” he said.
“We showed that we can play football. We weren’t forced into a battle of nerves.”
Wilmots’ ploy to bring in Lukaku from the first half of extra-time spurred the Belgians further. Lukaku's sprints not only upped the ante further on American defenders, but also suggested that the Red Devils’ going on the lead was just around the corner.
Eventually, they did go ahead, courtesy De Bruyne's strike before Lukaku added his name onto the scoresheet. Lukaku was elated having scored for the first time in this World Cup. “I almost cried after my goal. It was the greatest moment of my life. “Scoring at the World Cup at the age of 21 is something I've trained for since I was a boy,” he said, with a voice full of emotion.
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Daniel Van Buyten, Jan Vertonghen; Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini; Dries Mertens (Kevin Mirallas, 60), Eden Hazard (Nacer Chadli, 111), Kevin De Bruyne; Divock Origi (Romelu Lukaku, 91)
United States: Tim Howard; Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron; Graham Zusi (Chris Wondolowski, 72), Alejandro Bedoya (Julian Green, 105+2), Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones (DeAndre Yedlin, 32); Clint Dempsey
Man of the Match: Tim Howard
Referee: Djamel Haimoudi (Algeria)