Belgium claimed a 2-1 extra-time victory over USA in the last 16 of the World Cup last night.
The game finished goalless after normal time, but the extra period produced a pulsating half an hour of football.
Goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in the first period put Belgium two goals ahead, only for USA midfielder Julian Green to score early the second period, which set-up a grand stand finish.
The US cavalry in the second period flooded forward in search of an equaliser, but Belgium hung on by their fingertips to set up a quarter-final clash with Argentina.
Belgium were considered one of the World Cup’s dark horses prior to the tournament and Marc Wilmots team has impressed in spells in Brazil, just like a lot of the teams who have made it to the last eight.
Belgium has a squad of bright young players and has a very useful array of players on their bench. Wilmots has a number of options for every position. That was displayed against USA, when highly-rated Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku was left on the bench and fellow youngster Divock Origi started the game.
Lukaku had been disappointing in the first two group games and was rested in the last group encounter. The 21-year-old came off the bench against USA to set-up a goal and scored one himself. It was a case of better late than never for the big striker.
Young Origi replaced Aston Villa’s injured striker Christian Benteke in the squad, but few knew much about the 19-year-old Lille striker prior to his selection for the squad. The youngster made 30 appearances for his French club Lille last season and scored five goals in his breakthrough season.
Premier League Liverpool is favourites to sign the youngster this summer, after attracting the Reds interest by impressing in Brazil. Origi is yet another young Belgium player who looks to have a bright future.
He has some tough competition for a forward role in the Belgium team though with Lukaku just two years older than him and Villa’s Benteke still to return from injury. Origi is versatile though and can also play on the wing.
Belgium will have to raise their game in the last eight, as they come up against South American giants Argentina.
The Albiceleste were not great in their last 16 victory over Switzerland, but they have the likes of Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria who can change a game in a split second, just as they did in extra-time against the Swiss.
The quarter-finals will be a major test of Belgium’s credentials as a real contender to win the trophy. However, Argentina will know the young Belgian team are a threat to their progress in the competition and will not take Wilmots charges likely.
If they do then they could be in trouble. One thing is for sure they will have to put in an improved performance from the one they produced against the stubborn Swiss.
Like all of the favourites from the last 16 ties, Belgium only just scraped through to the last 8. The USA absolutely pummelled the Belgium defence in the second half of extra-time, with attack after attack on the Belgian goal.
However, Marc Wilmot’s team stood strong and held on to their lead, which for a relatively young team was a testament to the resilience instilled into the team by their boss.
Saturday’s quarter-final meeting with Argentina is a repeat of the 1986 World Cup semi-final, in which Argentina legend Diego Maradona scored a fantastic goal. That World Cup remains Belgian football’s finest hour.
The 1986 team is still considered the best that the country has ever produced. It would be quite an accomplishment if the current team could equal that feat of 1986 and make it to the last four of the World Cup.
What is good about this team is that the majority of the players have time on their side to make an impact on future tournaments. If Belgium does go out at the World Cup quarter-finals stage against Argentina, then they can still be proud of their efforts.
However, at this stage the very talented group of Belgium players could very well pull off a victory over the South Americans, a feat that they are odds of 3/1 to achieve. This World Cup has already proven anything can happen at the world’s biggest football competition.
Can Belgium defeat Argentina to make it to the semi-finals of the World Cup?