SALVADOR, Brazil — Cinderella’s glass slipper cracked.
Seabiscuit pulled up lame on the backstretch. Kirk Gibson’s long drive died on the warning track.
After a remarkable underdog run through four games and one overtime period, the U.S. soccer team’s World Cup magic finally ran out in the round of 16 Tuesday with a 2-1 loss to Belgium.
The first goal came three minutes into extra time after Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku pushed past Matt Besler along the right touchline, raced into the penalty area alone and sent the ball forward for Kevin De Bruyne, who spun away from two defenders and rolled the ball into the far corner.
And with the U.S. pushing hard for the tying goal Lukaku, who didn’t come off the bench until the 91st minute, added what appeared to be an insurance goal on a counterattack near the end of the first 15-minute overtime.
That goal proved to be important, though, when U.S. teenager Julian Green beat Belgium’s all-world goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on a right-footed volley just seconds after stepping on to a World Cup field for the first.
The only other goal Courtois has allowed in Brazil came on a penalty kick in Belgium’s first game.
But Green’s goal was all the U.S. would get on a night in which U.S. keeper Tim Howard certainly deserved a better fate. In what may rank as one of the greatest World Cup performance of all-time by a goalie, Howard was credited with 18 saves – many of them in spectacular fashion – to keep the game from getting out of hand long before overtime.
Saddled with the worst attack in this World Cup, U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann made several changes to a lineup that lost the possession battle in all three of its group-play games, getting outshot 2 to 1.
Geoff Cameron moved from central defense to the midfield, pushing midfielders Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya into forward roles in a 4-3-3 alignment. That was supposed to get Clint Dempsey more help up front, where he had been playing as a long striker. But it didn’t work as planned with the Americans going 21 minutes before putting their first shot on goal.
Belgium, on the other hand, got several good rushes on its counterattack only to see things fall apart in the final third of the field.
The U.S. plans changed again in the 32nd minute when Fabian Johnson – who has been so dangerous on the wings in the World Cup – left the game with a leg injury, giving way to speedy 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, who was appearing in just his sixth international game.
It didn’t take long for Yedlin to make his presence felt, bending a perfect cross from the right wing into the penalty area. But Zusi, lining up for a shot, missed the ball completely.
Later Yedlin sent a cross into the six-yard box for Dempsey that proved inches too high and just before halftime he set up another scoring chance with some deft ballhandling, pushing the ball forward for Dempsey again only to have Courtois rush off his line to punch it away.
The U.S. then caught a couple of huge breaks early in the second half when Belgium’s Divock Origi stepped over a perfect pass at the far post, giving up what would have been an easy tap-in for the goal. Less than two minutes later Origi bounced a header off the crossbar.
And those were just two of the seven shots Belgium had in the first 10 minutes after the break. This was Belgium time – all six of the team’s goals in this World Cup had come after the 70th minute and they were clearly beginning to find their range.
Howard wouldn’t be beaten though. And like a fighter who punches himself into exhaustion, Belgium eventually tired. That nearly allowed the U.S. to steal a a victory late in second-half stoppage time but Chris Wondolowski, after taking a header from Jermaine Jones, missed a wide-open net to send the game into overtime.
Lukaku bought new energy when he came off the bench in regulation stoppage time though. And then Courtois saved the win with a great save on Dempsey midway into the second overtime.