How this game ended goalless in normal time defies logic. Two stats sum up what was a crazy, cracker of a match in Salvador. First, Tim Howard ended the game with 15 saves, more than any other player at a World Cup game in the last 48 years. Second, Belgium’s final total of 39 shots is the fourth highest total in a World Cup game since records of such things started being charted in 1966. Madness.
In the end the Belgians' superior strength in depth prevailed once again, giving them the extra push they needed to see off a USA team that has shown throughout this World Cup what progress they've made under Jurgen Klinsmann.
Their growth on the field is mimicked off it too: the Nielsen company reported that USA's 2-2 draw with Portugal was seen by an average of 24.7 million viewers, making it the most-viewed football match ever in the United States. US supporter culture is growing exponentially, and based on the evidence in Brazil they also have a team to be proud of.
Nonetheless it is Belgium who advance to play Argentina in the quarter-finals after Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku's goals in extra-time secured a 2-1 win, despite Julian Green's effort halving the deficit. Here's how Stats Zone saw it.
In a game that saw 56 shots it's no surprise we got off to a super-fast start. Belgium nearly scored after 40 seconds. Marc Wilmots' side came flying out of the blocks and Tim Howard was forced to make an excellent save to deny man of the moment Divock Origi. It was but an early harbinger of the palm-stinging to come.
Michael Bradley's passing left a lot to be desired early on as USA struggled to get into their rhythm. Nonetheless, Klinsmann’s side racked up 59% possession in the first 20 minutes and generally offered more in the final third.
De Bruyne missed a great chance in the 23rd minute after a mistake in possession by Graham Zusi resulted in a very dangerous counter-attack started by Jan Vertonghen. De Bruyne put it wide – a poor finish. Belgium's set up was geared for quickfire counter-attacks whenever possible.
The game had an incredibly open feel to it. There were huge gaps in midfield between Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini, while USA's midfield was all at sea too, leaving the centre of the park to resemble a chasm. Belgium's midfield combination was strange – one minute the two players were sat virtually on top of each other, too cramped, the next they were 30-40 yards apart. Belgium looked very attack-minded and anything but compact.
USA were largely building down the left through DaMarcus Beasley, who started well, and Belgium more down the right, though they were having joy when Eden Hazard and Vertonghen charged down the left too.
On the half-hour mark Fabian Johnson went off injured for USA, a big blow given he’s been one of their standout players at this World Cup. DeAndre Yedlin came on and showed no signs of fear, immediately throwing himself into action. He had a fine game.
Despite the attacking intent from both teams, the final ball was often lacking. In fact, for this level of football the amount of chances spurned was really quite remarkable.
In many ways Belgium’s team is a curious egg, a strange mish-mash of a side. A patchwork squad packed with players who – the back five, Witsel, De Bruyne and Hazard aside – aren’t quite good enough to be considered undisputed starters on the one hand, but on the other hand possess within their locker extraordinary moments of skill or subtlety that can change a game in a heartbeat.
The upside of this is that Wilmots' substitute options are among the strongest in Brazil – very few players represent significant weakenings to the XI that take the field. With so many options it makes Wilmots’ side extremely dangerous late in games. This would prove the case in extra-time. But more on that later.
Despite both teams’ incredibly open midfields and the sheer number of chances created, it remained goalless at half-time. Hazard and De Bruyne were the game’s top two for attacking third passes, but their final ball was often the wrong option.
Hazard came alive early in the second half. De Bruyne spurned yet more openings while Origi clipped the bar with a header in the 56th minute. Left untracked by Zusi, Vertonghen was bossing things down Belgium’s left.
Belgium had plenty of cooks but no-one to actually serve up the broth. Their corners were a perfect example of this, completing fewer than USA despite having three times the volume.
In goal, Howard was having a brilliant game, repelling shot after shot. In defence, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler were also performing well.
Somehow it ended goalless and both teams dusted themselves down for another 30 minutes. Extra-time can be hard to analyse. It usually goes one of two ways - either meandering off into nervous nothingness as jitters take over, or catching on fire. This one did the latter, and it was all thanks to the introduction of substitute Romelu Lukaku – on for Origi – who had a fairly average game.
Lukaku, though, was in inspired mood. Within three minutes he helped created the first, eventually fired in by De Bruyne. 12 minutes later De Bruyne repaid the favour, setting up his fellow youngster to slap in the second goal. Inspirational stuff from Lukaku, and it looked like USA were dead and buried.
But USA have been nothing at this tournament if not resilient. Fiercely committed to the death, they fought back. Julian Green scored with his first ever touch at a World Cup. 2-1. Still they fought. Extra-time saw more shots than some games see in 90 minutes. The game was playing out in breathtaking style.
USA threw men forward, Belgium looked like they could grab a third at any moment. It was end-to-end. But it had to end. Finally the whistle came. Belgium were through. Ultimately USA – like many of the second round underdogs that preceded them – crash out with dignity but no quarter-final spot.
Facts and figures
- Belgium have failed to score before half-time in their last 5 World Cup games.
- Tim Howard ended the game with 15 saves, more than any other player in a World Cup game between 1966 and 2014.
- The USA’s Justin Green scored with his first ever touch in World Cup football.
- Kevin de Bruyne created 10 chances vs USA, the most by a player in a World Cup match since 1982 (Gordon Strachan for Scotland vs New Zealand).
- 4 of Belgium's 6 goals at the 2014 World Cup have been scored by substitutes.
- The last 9 Belgian goals at World Cups have all been scored by different players.
- Belgium’s opening goal came with their 32nd shot.
- Belgium’s final total of 39 shots is the fourth highest total in a World Cup game (1966-2014).
- 15 of the last 16 group winners (World Cup 2010 and 2014 combined have reached the quarter-finals).
- This is the first time all eight group winners have progressed from the last 16 round in the current World Cup format.
- 7 of the USA’s 17 shots came in the second period of extra-time.
- USA had more than 50% possession in a World Cup game for the first time since playing Algeria in 2010.
- Belgium have had 83 shots at this tournament (including blocks), more than any other side.