By Neil Maidment
SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) – Extra-time goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku sealed a thrilling 2-1 victory for Belgium over a spirited United States on Tuesday and set up a World Cup quarter-final clash with Argentina.
After dominating the game and being frustrated by an inspired Tim Howard in the U.S. goal, De Bruyne struck in the 93rd minute, collecting a loose ball before turning and firing home an angled shot from seven meters.
In a pulsating extra time period, substitute Lukaku powered home a second on 105 minutes after a neat De Bruyne pass before Julian Green’s neat volley ensured a tense finish in which Clint Dempsey almost sneaked an equalizer.
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It could have been very different for the Belgians had U.S. substitute Chris Wondolowski not horribly skewed wide from five meters in the dying seconds of normal time to seal what would have been a smash and grab victory.
Belgium enjoyed nearly all the possession and looked the more dangerous side throughout as the U.S. were forced to set up camp outside their box and look for the break.
On his first start in Brazil, Belgium striker Divock Origi was in on goal inside 40 seconds but his low drive was parried away for a corner by Howard, while the lively De Bruyne should have done better after 23 minutes after finding space in the box.
Dempsey’s tame volley represented the best chance for the Americans in the first half but it was the Belgians who looked strong again after the interval.
Dries Mertens and Jan Vertonghen tested Howard before Origi went close with a header that hit the crossbar. Howard was again on hand to repel Kevin Mirallas on 76 minutes and he dealt with two more stinging Origi shots and a Vincent Kompany effort.
With extra time moments away, America’s Wondolowski missed a glorious chance that they would come to rue.
All the Belgian goals in Brazil had come after the 70th- minute mark and their persistence finally paid off in extra time.
De Bruyne fired home after good work from Lukaku before the midfielder returned the favor, teeing up the substitute striker to power home a second on 105 minutes.
Midfielder Green raised U.S. hopes by pulling one back with a smart volley two minutes later but after Thibaut Courtois denied Dempsey’s clever set-piece move it was Belgium who held on to seal their first World Cup quarter-final since 1986.
DI MARIA SENDS ARGENTINA THROUGH IN TENSE FINALE
Argentina took 118 minutes to break down stubborn Switzerland then survived an extraordinary, heart-stopping finale before reaching the World Cup quarter-finals after a dramatic 1-0 win on Tuesday.
With penalties looming, Angel Di Maria stroked the ball home from the edge of penalty area to put the finishing touch to a trademark Lionel Messi run, sparking wild celebrations among the South Americans and their fans in Sao Paulo.
There was still time for Swiss substitute Blerim Dzemaili to head the ball against the post from point-blank range and his team mate Xherdan Shaqiri to send a free kick straight into the Argentina wall amid unbearable tension.
“Football is brutal, brutal, brutal. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have enough strength at the end to get through extra time,” said Switzerland’s assistant coach Michel Pont.
Argentina face either Belgium in their quarter-final in Brasilia on Saturday.
Off the field, Cameroon’s football federation (FECAFOOT) said they would investigate claims that seven of their players were involved in match-fixing at the World Cup, centered on the 4-0 defeat by Croatia when Alex Song sent off in the first half.
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“Recent allegations of fraud around Cameroon’s three 2014 World Cup games, especially Cameroon v Croatia, as well the existence of “seven bad apples (in our national team)” do not reflect the values and principles promoted by our administration,” FECAFOOT said in a statement.
The allegations against Cameroon came from convicted fraudster Wilson Raj Perumal, who had accurately forecast the result and the fact that a player would be sent off during a discussion with German magazine Der Spiegel.
The Netherlands, who face Costa Rica in a quarter-final on Saturday, suffered a blow when defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong was effectively ruled out of the rest of the World Cup with a groin injury.
The Dutch football association (KNVB) said in a statement that De Jong would be sidelined for two to four weeks, exceeding the duration of the tournament which ends on July 13.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was reported to have quit his post, one day after their last 16 exit to France, but this was denied by the country’s football federation.
Argentina became the seventh team to reach the quarter-finals, all of them winners of their first round groups.
Like Brazil, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Germany and France before them, they had to suffer much more than in the group stage before finally booking their place.
Although Argentina dominated the match, their attacks lacked variety and Switzerland, brilliantly marshaled by veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld in his last game in charge, defended superbly.
Hitzfeld is now retiring following a career in which he has won seven Bundesliga and two Champions League titles.
The Swiss broke forward when they had a chance and created several chances, with Josip Drmic wasting the best when he chipped the ball into Sergio Romero’s arms from an excellent position.
“Yesterday Germany, Holland the day before. Nothing’s easy, it’s all hard work. Football has evolved today and everything is very level,” said Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano, referring to narrow victories by the Germans and Dutch.
“We always tried to play, we just made one mistake in the first half that allowed a one-on-one with ‘Chiquito’ Romero,” added Di Maria.