Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku scored in extra time and Belgium resisted a late US fightback to win 2-1 on Tuesday and reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 28 years.
American keeper Tim Howard set a World Cup record with16 saves in one match and he kept Marc Wilmots' men at bay during the regulation 90 minutes in Salvador.
He was finally beaten at the start of extra time by De Bruyne's angled drive after good work from substitute Lukaku. De Bruyne then returned the favour just before the break to allow Lukaku to slam past Howard with whom he played at Everton last season.
USA got back in the game two minutes into the second-half of extra time when substitute Julian Green volleyed home and only a fine save from Thibaut Courtois prevented Clint Dempsey from taking the game to penalties moments later.
Belgium, which had dominated most of the game and had 38 goal attempts in total, ended the game clinging on but they held out.
“It's heartbreaking,'' Howard said. “I don't think we could have given it more.''
“The dream falls short, but this is an incredible group,'' he said, “and we'll never forget this night”.
Belgium will face Argentina in Brasilia on Saturday. It is a rematch of the 1986 semifinal which the Argentines won on the way to winning the World Cup.
Belgium started quickly. Lille's 19-year-old striker Divock Origi, who had been brought into the side at Lukaku's expense after impressing as a substitute in all three of Belgium's group wins, was denied within the opening minute by Howard's outstretched leg after racing onto De Bruyne's through ball.
Belgium's pace on the counter-attack was a constant threat. They should have gone in front when Jan Vertonghen fed De Bruyne, but having cut inside to open up the goal he slotted wide at the near post.
Jurgen Klinsmann's men were dealt a blow as one of their standout performers in the group stages, Fabian Johnson, limped off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by DeAndre Yedlin.
However, Yedlin immediately burst forward on the right and pulled the ball back for the unmarked Graham Zusi who shanked his shot horribly off target.
Belgium started strongly again in the second-half with the ever dangerous Vertonghen producing another fine cross from the left that both De Bruyne and Origi failed to turn home.
Origi was desperately unlucky moments later as his header from Toby Alderweireld's cross came back off the crossbar.
Vertonghen then saw a low effort saved by Howard. The right back then volleyed over before Axel Witsel fired a shot just wide as the waves of Belgian attacks continued.
Origi was then presented with another great chance after a fine run by substitute Kevin Mirallas, but again his low effort was beaten away Howard.
The Everton keeper's best stop was to come though as he again used his legs to prevent club mate Mirallas from slotting home 14 minutes from time.
Howard continued his one man resistance by parrying another low effort from Eden Hazard and then turning over a piledriver from Origi.
The States created a huge chance in stoppage time when Chris Wondolowski blazed over from Jermaine Jones's knockdown, but the play was flagged offside.
Lukaku was introduced for Origi at the beginning of extra-time and made an immediate impact as he teed up De Bruyne to finally beat Howard.
Howard continued to keep his side in the game with three more fine stops, but was eventually beaten for a second time when Lukaku thumped home De Bruyne's through ball in stoppage time at the end of the first-half of extra time.
But at the start of the second period, Green, a teenager who had been on the field just over a minute, expertly volleyed home Michael Bradley's chipped pass.
The Americans poured forward. They twice came desperately close to taking the game to penalties as Jones fired just wide before Courtois smothered from Dempsey to book Belgium's place in the last eight.
At the final whistle, the US players fell to the ground in their all-white uniforms like so many crumpled tissues.
“You get to this point and these games are always about a play here and play there,'' Bradley said.
In the US, millions watched in offices, homes and public gatherings that includes a huge crowd in Chicago's Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.
President Barack Obama joined about 200 staffers in an Executive Office Building auditorium to watch the second half.
“I believe!'' he exclaimed as he walked in at the front of the hall. “I believe!''
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Relive the match with FRANCE 24 below.
If you have any problems viewing the blog, click F5 or refresh.
Date created : 2014-07-02