SALVADOR, Brazil — Extra-time goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku sealed a thrilling 2-1 victory for Belgium over a spirited United States team on Tuesday and set up a World Cup quarterfinal clash with Argentina.
After dominating normal time and being frustrated by an inspired Tim Howard in the U.S. goal, De Bruyne struck in the 93rd minute, collecting a loose ball before turning and firing home an angled shot from seven meters.
In a pulsating extra-time, substitute striker Lukaku powered home a second on 105 minutes after a clever De Bruyne pass before Julian Green’s neat volley for the U.S. ensured a tense finish in which Clint Dempsey almost sneaked an equalizer.
“We had about 15 chances, we were controlling the game I think it is largely deserved even though at the end we conceded one,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.
“My players reached their limits to qualify. I said fresh legs would be important today and that is how it was. Now the whole of Belgium can celebrate.”
It could have been very different for the Belgians had U.S. substitute Chris Wondolowski not horribly skewed wide from five meters in the dying seconds of normal time to seal what would have been a smash-and-grab victory.
“It was heart-breaking. We left it all out there but we lost to a really good team. It hurts but hats off to Belgium they were fantastic,” Howard said.
“Sometimes when you give your best it doesn’t come off. We put them under real pressure at the end and fell short but it was an unbelievable night and we have an incredible group of players.”
Belgium enjoyed nearly all the possession and looked the more dangerous side throughout as the U.S. was forced to set up camp outside its own penalty area and look to attack on the break.
On his first start in Brazil, Belgium striker Divock Origi was in on goal inside 40 seconds but his low drive was parried away for a corner by Howard, while the lively De Bruyne should have done better after 23 minutes having found space in the box.
Dempsey’s tame volley represented the best chance for the Americans in the first half and they were forced to dig deep again after the interval to cope with another Belgian onslaught.
Dries Mertens and Jan Vertonghen tested Howard before Origi went close with a header that hit the crossbar. Howard was again on hand to repel Kevin Mirallas and he dealt with two more stinging Origi shots and a Vincent Kompany effort.
With extra time moments away, United States’ Wondolowski missed a glorious chance that the Americans would come to rue.
All Belgium’s goals in Brazil had come after the 70th- minute mark and its persistence finally paid off in extra time when De Bruyne fired home after Lukaku raced down the right wing and centered.
De Bruyne returned the favor on 105 minutes, teeing up the frontman to power home a second which sparked a thrilling finale.
Roared on by deafening chants of “USA,” coach Juergen Klinsmann’s side summoned the energy to raise American hopes.
Midfielder Green met a chipped Michael Bradley pass to volley home two minutes later and Dempsey almost forced penalties, only for his clever set-piece effort to be foiled by Thibaut Courtois.
The win was Belgium’s fourth in four games in Brazil and sealed its first World Cup quarterfinal appearance since 1986. Belgium will play Argentina on Saturday.
Back in the U.S., American soccer fans decked out in red, white and blue flocked to stadiums and giant TV screens to watch the game.
Strong performances by the U.S. team in Brazil had ignited passions in a country not known for its love of soccer, and free viewing parties were held from coast to coast while fans crammed into sports bars and restaurants.
Showing the spread of World Cup fever in areas more often obsessed with a different sort of football, some 2,000 fans had lined up an hour early at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — to watch on one of the biggest video screens in the world.
More than 10,000 also attended at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, and many of them warmed up for the game at tailgate parties in the stadium’s parking lot.
Karl Epson, 25, and his girlfriend, Becky Oliver, 23, drove a couple of hours from the Bloomington, Illinois, area because they said they wanted to be part of history.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this moment, it’s so awesome to finally be here,” said Epson, wearing a U.S. team jersey.
At the packed Campus Lounge bar in Denver, everyone in the bar had stood up for the U.S. national anthem before kick-off.
“I’ve seen a lot of sports events in a lot of places, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said owner and former Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey player Jim Wiste. “It’s good for the community.”