November 27, 2014

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World Cup: U.S. run ends as Belgium scores two in extra time

Exhausted US players lie on the ground as Belgium's Axel Witsel celebrates at the end of the extra time during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the US. Belgium held on to beat US 2-1 in extra time.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Exhausted US players lie on the ground as Belgium’s Axel Witsel celebrates at the end of the extra time during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the US. Belgium held on to beat US 2-1 in extra time.(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

SALVADOR, Brazil — They captured the eyes and hearts of a suddenly awakened soccer nation, who gathered in unprecedented numbers to watch the world’s game. But the end of the ride came at the exact same point as four years ago: a loss in extra time in the World Cup’s round of 16.

Belgium scored twice in extra time then held on for a 2-1 win Tuesday.

“It’s heartbreaking,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “I don’t think we could have given it more.”

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard makes a save on Belgium's Vincent Kompany's shot attempt. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

United States’ goalkeeper Tim Howard makes a save on Belgium’s Vincent Kompany’s shot attempt. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Howard, playing the finest game of his career, stopped a dozen shots with his legs and arms to keep the Americans even through regulation and force an additional 30 minutes.

He wound up with 16 saves — the most in the World Cup since 1966.

Before exiting, the U.S. showed the spunk that captured America’s attention. Julian Green, at 19 the youngest player on the U.S. roster, stuck out his right foot to volley in Michael Bradley’s pass over the defense in the 107th minute, two minutes after entering the game.

They nearly tied it up in the 114th, when Clint Dempsey peeled off the ball and was stopped point-blank by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after being fed by Bradley on a free kick.

But it wasn’t enough, and U.S. players fell to the field at the final whistle in their all-white uniforms like so many crumpled tissues.

“I think they made their country proud with this performance,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.

Nigel Carlton, left, and Bryce Poremba react as the United States soccer team misses a shot at Belgium's goal while watching a World Cup soccer match at The Fat Frogg Bar & Grill in Elon, N.C., Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Burlington Times-News, Scott Muthersbaugh)

Nigel Carlton, left, and Bryce Poremba react as the United States soccer team misses a shot at Belgium’s goal in Elon, N.C. (AP Photo/Burlington Times-News, Scott Muthersbaugh)

The Americans advanced from a difficult first-round group that included Germany, Portugal and Ghana to reach the knockout rounds of consecutive World Cups for the first time.

Four years ago, they were eliminated in South Africa by Ghana 1-0 on a goal in the third minute of extra time.

Fans who had made the trek south of the equator chanting “I believe that we will win!” could hardly believe they lost, extending a World Cup winless streak against European nations to nine games over 12 years.

The crowd of 51,227 at Arena Fonte Nova appeared to be about one third pro-U.S., with 10 percent backing the Belgians and the rest neutral. Back home, millions watched across the United States in offices, homes and public gatherings that includes a huge crowd in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

“There’s a lot to build on going forward,” Klinsmann said.

President Barack Obama joined about 200 staffers in an Executive Office Building auditorium to watch the second half.

“I believe!” he exclaimed as he walked in at the front of the hall. “I believe!”

That sparked a chorus of the chant, and as Obama took a front-row seat, he said sheepishly: “I was worried that if I walked in and Belgium scored, I’d get in trouble.”

In its first World Cup under Klinsmann, the U.S. had promised to play attacking soccer. But once again the Americans had trouble maintaining possession and for much of the night it seemed as if the field were tilted.

The 35-year-old Howard kept saving his team. Belgium had 38 shots to 14 by the U.S.

But when Matt Besler lost his balance on an attack down the right, Romelu Lukaku sped in alone and crossed in front of the goal. The ball rebounded off defender Omar Gonzalez, and Kevin De Bruyne controlled it, spun and beat Howard just over his right foot in the third minute of extra time.

Then with the U.S. pushing for an equalizer, De Bruyne burst ahead and fed Lukaku. He slotted the ball past Howard, his Everton teammate, seeming to put the Red Devils out of reach in the 105th minute.

United States' Geoff Cameron lays on the pitch after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

United States’ Geoff Cameron lays on the pitch after the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

But Green, among five German-Americans on the U.S. roster and a surprise pick, woke up the team and its fans with his first touch of the game, setting off raucous chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” But there would be no final comeback this time.

“You get to this point and these games are always about a play here and play there,” Bradley said.

Chris Wondolowski had a chance to win it in stoppage time when Jermaine Jones flicked the ball to him at the top of the 6-yard box, but with Courtois coming out Wondolowski put the ball over the crossbar.

U.S. forward Jozy Altidore, who strained his hamstring in the World Cup opener, did not play again. Klinsmann had announced Monday he would be available, but the coach said after the game the forward wasn’t quite ready.

“The dream falls short, but this is an incredible group,” Howard said, “and we’ll never forget this night.”

Belgium 2, United States 1
Belgium 0 0 2 0 — 2
United States 0 0 0 1 — 1
First half—None.
Second half—None.
Extra time—1, Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne 1, 93rd minute. 2, Belgium, Romelu Lukaku 1, 105th.
Extra time—3, United States, Julian Green 1, 107th.
Shots—Belgium 38, United States 14.
Shots On Goal—Belgium 27, United States 9.
Yellow Cards—Belgium, Vincent Kompany, 42nd. United States, Geoff Cameron, 18th.
Offsides—Belgium 2, United States 0.
Fouls Committed—Belgium 27, United States 11.
Fouls Against—Belgium 10, United States 24.
Corner Kicks—Belgium 19, United States 4.
Referee—Djamel Haimoudi, Algeria. Linesmen—Redouane Achik, Morocco; Abdelhak Etchiali, Algeria.
A—51,227.
Lineups
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen; Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens (Kevin Mirallas, 60th), Eden Hazard (Nacer Chadli, 111th); Divock Origi (Romelu Lukaku, 91st).
United States: Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson (DeAndre Yedlin, 32nd), Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron; Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya (Julian Green, 105th, injury time), Graham Zusi (Chris Wondolowski, 72nd); Clint Dempsey.