Belgium Waffles Late, but Still Sticks a Fork in USA
The USA registered one win, one draw, and two losses in Brazil, and manager Jürgen Klinsmann is being hailed as a genius.
That's because, right now, he is.
The football legend bent a few American noses out of shape when he stated the obvious last winter, namely that the USA had no hope of winning the World Cup in 2014. But he never said the side wouldn't try.
Klinsmann wisely assembled his roster with an eye toward the future. He also mined his homeland for German-American dual nationals. Both themes played well in the past month:
- Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson have been essential in the USA's competitiveness;
- Julian Green's future as an American international is brighter than the Ipanema sun; and
- DeAndré Yedlin simply needs more experience to catch up with his speed and poise.
Green, in particular, formally introduced himself to national team action with a brilliant touch goal, the only one the Americans would register in their 2-1 loss to Belgium in the Round of 16:
He was on the business end of a splendid pass from Michael Bradley. It halved a two-goal deficit in extra time after the second-best player on the field -- VfL Wolfsburg midfielder Kevin de Bruyne -- was finally rewarded by getting space and service from Romelu Lukaku, confounding two defenders, and finding the goal's far side, barely eluding the outstretched foot of Tim Howard.
Lukaku would add an insurance marker later in extra time, and that appeared to be that. But no.
After Howard's heroics -- making an American international record 16 saves, many of them miraculous -- his teammates finally began getting dangerous in regulation's final moments. The groaner was substitute Chris Wondolowski's unnecessarily hurried poke at the ball from six yards out; he had time, had options, and should have scored. The miracle would've continued.
After Belgium's scores, the Americans roared forth with athletic wave upon athletic wave, but the fine skills just weren't there to cash in on the aggression. And their tournament was over.
There was no question the Belgians had the better players, but it can also be argued the United States had the better team. It was the only way they could keep themselves in the game.
Klinsmann had chosen his roster wisely and prepared his squad as well as could be expected. He'll have long retired before the USA can legitimately be compared to the likes of the four favorites in this tournament -- Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands, and Germany -- but he's set the program on the right path.
And Belgium will advance to meet Argentina. Like the USA, its national team has electrified a country that's younger than America -- being created as a political convenience -- is divided by two cultures speaking three languages, and most notably, is the homeland of Smurfs.
Argentina had best be on guard.