Well that was fun, wasn’t it? Belgium had to sweat it out for 120 minutes, but they’re in the last eight, using a quick overtime double punch to beat the US 2-1. Belgium dominated this game throughout and should have won handily in the first 90 minutes, but bland finishing and the outstanding goalkeeping of Tim Howard kept the Americans in the game until the very end.
Setting the Record Straight
Before we get to the game action, I want to talk about Captain Hatch’s pre-game column, in which he hilariously claimed that Belgian waffles are not really Belgian and were in fact invented in the US. Look, Cap’n, I may look the other way when you make your snide little remarks about Marouane Fellini’s hair, but this time you’ve gone too far. Belgian waffles are Belgian. They have Belgian right in the title! Stop trying to steal Belgium’s cultural heritage (or at least anything the French didn’t already appropriate). What’s next? Are nachos not really Mexican? Are fortune cookies not Chinese? Was Sriracha invented by some guy in Los Angeles? Please. And don’t think I didn’t notice you used the old “but some of my friends are Belgian” line to disguise your cultural pillaging. Let the Belgians have their waffles, and maybe they’ll give back our Budweiser.
Making Tim Howard do all the heavy lifting worked out well…
It’s hard to analyze this game objectively, because the US is involved, but let’s give it a try. The truth is, the US had no business taking this game to overtime. Belgium was by far the superior team, using a well-organized defense to keep the timid USMNT away from Thibaut Courtois and bedeviling The American defense (see what I did there?) with a flurry of precision passes and outstanding movement away from the ball. Time after time, the Belgian attackers made their way through the US defense, but could not put the ball in the net. A big part of that was the awesomeness that is Tim Howard (he came up big time after time), but the lack of convincing finishing was also part of the problem. Look, guys, it’s all fine and good to use soft touches and controlled passes to get around the defense and get in position to score. Once you’re there, however, cute isn’t going to cut it, especially with Big Tim in front of you. Aim for the corner and belt one; it might go in, it might not, but it’s better than hoping a world class goalie reads your shot the wrong way.
In any case, the Belgian waves kept coming, and Timmeh! kept tossing them aside. This went on pretty much for the whole of regulation. This is the Belgium I was thinking about when I picked them as my team for the Cup, and this is the Belgium we didn’t really see in the group stage. Maybe they were feeling the pressure of expectations; maybe it took them a while to adapt to the climate; maybe they’re the type of team that plays down to the importance of the occasion. Hell, maybe Wilmots has just now figured out the proper scheme and rotation. And maybe, just maybe, this is the worst defense they’ve played so far, and that’s why they looked so damn good. At some point during the 45 minute monologue that was the second half, Mrs. El Bolso asked me why it was that the Belgians seemed to be so much better than the US at creating scoring chances. Well, I said, maybe it would be easier for the US to create opportunities if they tried attacking, and as far as the Belgian attack, it’s not as if we didn’t see a toned-down version of this in the second half of the Ghana game. So I think Jurgen has some work to do at both ends of the field. I’ll let Captain Hatch deal with the US side of the field, though, as soon as he’s finished stealing lumpia from poor Filipino babies or whatever it is he’s doing. I’ll just leave this video of all of Timmy’s saves.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
…until it didn’t.
Anyway, regulation came and went; there were no goals (thaaaaanks, Wondo), but it was a very entertaining match nonetheless. At the start of overtime, Wilmots made a substitution, bringing on forward Romelu Lukaku. We’ve talked before about how much help Belgium has been getting from their bench, and this game was no exception. Five minutes into extra time, Lukaku made a run down the right side of the field after a great pass by Kevin Mirallas (yes, another sub). Lukaku turned into the box and sent a pass back towards Kevin De Bruyne, who coolly worked his way around two defenders and boomed a low shot to Howard’s far post. Short of changing his name to Reed Richards and crashing a spaceship into a meteor shower, there was nothing Tim could do to keep that one out. Ten minutes later it was time to return the favor: another great ball into space, this time by Belgian Waffles favorite Eden Hazard, sent De Bruyne down the left sideline. De Bruyne held the ball long enough for Lukaku to make a run into the box and perfectly sent the ball in to the striker, who one-timed it into Howard’s upper right hand corner. It looked like Belgium was on its way to a blowout.
Of course, we know that’s not how it turned out. Faced with elimination, the USMNT woke up and joined the party, getting a beautiful goal from Julian Green and nearly tying the game on one of the smartest set pieces I’ve ever seen. Still, it wasn’t enough, and Belgium moves on with a much-deserved victory. I think the stats tell the story here: the USMNT actually led in time of possession (52%) and in passes completed (579 to 454) but trailed 38-14 in shots, and that’s only after a late flurry once the Belgians went up by two. Until the last twenty minutes of overtime, only one team acted as if they wanted to actually win the game, and eventually they were rewarded. Belgium moves on to a quarterfinal date with Argentina. If they continue playing like they did in this game, and coach Wilmots (fun fact: his nickname, acquired while playing at Schalke 04 of the German Bundesliga, is “Das Kampfschwein,” which means “the Warpig”) continues to show the golden touch when it comes to subsitutions, this team could go all the way to the final.
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