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Lukaku makes the difference for Belgium

The big news before the second round match between Belgium and USA was that Vincent Kompany, Belgium’s captain passed late fitness tests and made the starting line up. His inspirational leadership would be needed for Belgium to qualify ahead of this well drilled and organised US side.

The game started with De Bruyne striding forward in the first minute and doing well to find Origi, whose shot was blocked by Howard. Belgium is looking bright early on with De Bruyne and Origi unsettling the US defence. Beasley surges forward on the 6th minute but his shot goes wide, under pressure from Fellaini. Dempsey picks up a long ball on the 8th minute and releases Jones but his pass is intercepted by Vertonghen.

Jones fouls De Bruyne on the 10th minute and Fellaini’s flick was cleared for a corner. Cameron picks up the first caution on the 17th minute for a cynical foul on the sprinting Mertens. Dempsey and Bradley combined on the 20th minute but Courtois picks up Dempsey’s shot easily.

Van Buyten intercepted the ball on the 23rd minute and set up De Bruyne but his shot went slightly wide. Beasley clears Vertonghen’s cross off the line, with Fellaini lurking as Belgium tighten the screw. Hazard dribbles his way into the box but the US defence clears the ball for a corner. Howard saves from Hazard on the 27th minute. Hazard’s influence is growing in the game and the smart play between him, Be Bruyne and Mertens is proving difficult for the US defence.

Yedlin is brought on for the injured Johnson on the 31st minute and he wins a corner for his team with his first touch of the ball. Jones shot from the corner goes disappointingly wide. Bradley is tracked by Fellaini and he manages to get his shot out but Van Buyten clears. Bradley releases Yedlin on the 38th minute but his fine cross for Beasley was cleared by Van Buyten.

US attack through the pacy Yedlin but the ball is cleared by the Belgium defence. Kompany picks up a caution on the 41st minute for a tackle on Dempsey. Zusi wins a corner in the closing minutes but Courtois punches away the corner kick. Origi attacks from the right and sets up De Bruyne, but his shot is saved by Howard. Witsel strides forward and finds Hazard who manages to win a corner but the effort is cleared. The first half ends goalless

The second half is underway and US will look to let their much vaunted fitness count. Origi wriggles through a couple of white shirts and releases De Bruyne, who crosses for Mertens but his header is saved by Howard. On the 54th minute, De Bruyne finds Hazard, who releases Vertonghen, but his cross evades the on rushing Origi. Origi’s header on the 58th minute hits the crossbar and Howard saves from Vertonghen as Belgium laid siege on the US goal. Hazard combines well with Origi but Mertens fails to turn in his fabulous cross.

Beasley’s cross causes panic in Belgium’s box but the ball is eventually cleared by Fellaini. US is looking dangerous with long balls from deep. Mirallas comes on for Mertens on the hour mark. Kompany releases De Bruyne, who passes to Mirallas but he fails to get out a shot. Yedlin does well to cross into the box on the 66th minute but Courtois saves. Dempsey’s shot from distance on the 70th minute is saved by Courtois. At the other end, Howard saves from Origi after fine work from Mirallas to open up the US defence. Wondolowski is brought on for Zusi on the 72nd minute. Dempsey strides forward into the bare midfield and takes aim from distance, but Courtois collects calmly.

Fine defensive work by Hazard to win the ball back from the rampaging Yedlin on the 75th minute. He strides on and finds Origi, who turns and sets up Mirallas but Howard saves again. Bedoya finds Beasley on the left but his cross is cleared by Van Buyten as Witsel looks to release Mirelles at the opposite end. Bradley’s long pass finds Yedlin but Fellaini clears.

Van Buyten’s header from a Mirallas corner is cleared. Kompany strides forward and finds Hazard, who releases Origi but Howard saves again from the enterprising Origi. Jones crosses into the box but Van Buyten clears for corner. De Bruyne releases Hazard on the 87th minute but he finds the side netting. Bedoya beats Van Buyten but Kompany wins the ball and strides forward drawing a save from Howard at the opposite end. Hazard runs into the box and crosses but Gonzalez clears the danger.

A dangerous cross by Yedlin finds Wondolowski but Courtois dashes out to put him off. The game ends goalless in an intense game, dominated by Belgium. Wondolowski could have won it for US if he managed to eked his shot down.

Extra time kicks off with USA sensing that it could be their day, but Belgium had other ideas and threw Lukaku into the fray. On the 2nd minute, Lukaku barges in from the right, fending off Besler and pulling back for De Bruyne, who manages to squeeze the ball in from an acute angle. What an introduction; Besler could not just live with Lukaku’s sheer strength. Hazard finds Vertonghen but he delayed his shot allowing Howard to pick up easily. De Bruyne sets up Lukaku on the 6th minute and his shot is parried away by Howard.

Lukaku again fires another shot on the 10th minute but Howard steps up and saves. Hazard releases Mirallas and Howard goes down and makes his 15th save of the night. Another attacking move from Belgium and De Bruyne holds up play well before releasing Lukaku, who finishes emphatically. Julian Green is brought on to replace Bedoya as the first half of extra time comes to an end. Belgium leads 2:0 and look to have booked their place to face Argentina in the quarters.

Two minutes into the second half of extra time, Bradley lobs the ball over the defence and Green fires in to pull one back, beating the stretching Courtois. USA smells blood and goes for it but Jones’ shot from a Yeldin cross goes agonizingly wide. Lukaku drives at the defence on the counter beating two defenders but Howard stands tall. Chadli comes on for Eden Hazard as Belgium look to tighten things up.

Chadli’s first contribution is to pick up a yellow for a foul, setting up a free kick for USA. The cleverly worked free kick falls for Dempsey, who finds himself one on one with Courtois but couldn’t get the ball beyond him. Fellaini does well to clear from Dempsey as the US attack again. Lukaku attacks again and attempts to find Mirallas. Besler misses the headed clearances and Mirallas misses too.

The game ends 2:1 in favour of Belgium. Belgium’s unfazed golden generation pulls off another testing win in an intense game. A valiant effort by Tim Howard and crew who held off Belgium for much of the game and battled on to keep their dreams alive till the very last minute. An amazing World Cup, with all the group winners qualifying for the quarter finals.

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About Kene Okoye

A creative writer, banker, pianist, composer and music promoter, Kene documents events and presents his viewpoint in compelling narratives. He sets out to create vivid pictures with his intelligent use of words and seeks to engage, thrill, educate and inspire the reader. Come on and enjoy yourself.

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