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After the Americans clung on desperately to keep the game scoreless after 90 minutes of regulation, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku struck in the first additional period to knock the U.S. out of the tournament.
Late substitute Julian Green got one back for the U.S. with 13 minutes to go, but it was not enough to avoid being eliminated at this stage for the second straight World Cup.
[Photos: Heartbroken Team USA fans]
"After 120 minutes we gave everything to the fans and the crowd," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It was a real drama, a real thriller. We had enough opportunities to equalize at the end or even put it away earlier. But I have to be complimentary to Belgium for moving on to the quarterfinals."
Depleted by injuries and visibly exhausted, Klinsmann’s side had to withstand a near-constant attacking onslaught from a talented Belgian side. The onus to do so was almost solely on Team USA's stalwart goalkeeper Tim Howard, and he delivered one of the best performances of the tournament in a losing effort. Belgium had 38 shots and 27 of them were on goal. Howard finished the game with 16 saves – the most in a World Cup game since 1966 – and was named Man of the Match for his memorable outing.
"The way Tim played tonight was just phenomenal, was just outstanding," Klinsmann said. "He kept us in the game a long time. If we kept going forward we would get chances, too, but he had an absolutely amazing match tonight."
After going two goals down, the response from the U.S. was one of extraordinary courage. Green, the 19-year-old whose inclusion sparked such controversy, made a near-instant impact, volleying home Michael Bradley’s chip just minutes after replacing Alejandro Bedoya.
"He knew that he might get his chance today," Klinsmann said. "It was just phenomenal the way he came in and scored that goal and gets us back. We just needed a little bit more. It was fun to watch that kid grow."
With eight minutes left a well-worked free-kick found Clint Dempsey in the box, but the U.S. captain’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Belgium held on to advance to the quarterfinal, where it'll face Argentina.
"Everybody said we had no football," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. "I think we saw a lot of football from Belgium tonight, so there shouldn't be any more worries from the media. We passed the first round and now we've passed the round of 16."
And so an extraordinary journey, one that saw the U.S. progress from the Group of Death and exhilarate the nation in the process, finally came to an end after a thrilling and emotional ride.
"It was a game where we went to the extreme," Klinsmann said. "We are very, very proud of our team and every player stepping on the field. They gave everything they had. They made their country proud with their performance in this World Cup."
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