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World Cup 2014: Argentina-Switzerland, USA-Belgium - Tim Howard's apotheosis

Tim Howard's record-breaking heroics weren't enough.

Heroes. Fallen heroes, but heroes nonetheless.
Heroes. Fallen heroes, but heroes nonetheless.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

di Maria 118'

Green 107'
de Bruyne 93'
Lukaku 105'


Okay, look. It's simple. The first half was awful. The second half was dreadful. The first 28 minutes of extra time were pretty bad, too. This was the equivalent of two American football teams going to overtime in a scoreless tie because every single drive ended in either a penalty-induced punt or a fumble.

Then Lionel Messi dispossessed Stephan Lichtsteiner near the centerline and began streaking down the sideline. He got all the way to the penalty area and, covered, simply plopped the ball right to the foot of Angel di Maria, who left-footed it from the right side into the left corner. Boom. But Switzerland didn't give up, even though they only had five minutes left. Diego Benaglio came forward from goal to join the Swiss attack, and even fired off a bicycle kick at goal. Xherdan Shaqiri crossed to Blerim Džemaili, who headed into the post -- and worse, the rebound hit his leg and skittered just wide. Had the ball struck his head a half-inch to the right, the header would've scored; had the rebound hit his leg a half-inch to the right, Džemaili still would have scored. And even after that, the Swiss had one last chance; Shaqiri was fouled just outside the penalty area, and the final play of the game was Shaqiri's free kick. Sadly for Switzerland, he did what most players do: he tried to beat the wall. Had he served wide to the right, he had three red shirts which could have one-timed into the net with Sergio Romero hovering at the far post, but the wall defeated Shaqiri, and Argentina defeated Switzerland.

SB Nation's coverage of Argentina-Switzerland


Jurgen Klinsmann surprised nobody by replacing Brad Davis with Alejandro Bedoya, and surprised everyone by starting Matt Cameron as a midfielder rather than Kyle Beckerman. Belgium were hard on the attack early, and the Americans struggled but kept things in check, though Cameron picked up an early yellow. They started getting chances mid-half, but couldn't convert; importantly, Michael Bradley appeared to have returned to his normal form. At about the half-hour mark, Fabian Johnson went down with a hamstring, bringing DeAndre Yedlin into the match. That sparked the US attack, but halftime came and for the sixth straight Round of 16 game, the nets had been unmolested. The second half repeated the first; Belgium on constant attack through the first half-hour before the Americans, after subbing in Chris Wondolowski for Graham Zusi, started to press forward. They couldn't stop the Belgians from countering, though, and far too much of the clock was still happening on Tim Howard's end of the pitch. After a fairly furious back and forth over the final five minutes, the game went to extra time.

The USA had the early run, but a sudden counter after a flurry in the Belgian end where the Americans just couldn't control the ball resulted in a break which ended with Kevin de Bruyne finally getting past the impenetrable Howard three minutes into extra time. Just before the first half of extra time ended, Romelu Lukaku -- whose substitution to start extra time helped spur the Belgian attack -- broke free and beat Howard, and sank the American dream. Julian Green came in, and two minutes later he took a pass from Bradley, of all people, and volleyed in past a helpless Thibault Courtois to respark hope. Jermaine Jones very nearly equalized just a minute later, and the Americans were on the assault. It was just too little, too late.

There will be questions about the American play in midfield, and about their inability to finish. But regardless of the heroics of Tim Howard - 16 saves, a World Cup record -- the play of the back line can't be ignored. They were superb, and had they been less up to the task Howard would have faced at least 25 shots on goal. But that's all water under the bridge now. For now, the USA goes home after giving it everything they had.

SB Nation's coverage of USA-Belgium

Wednesday's Schedule

Sleep. Video gaming. Other pursuits. We have two days off before the quarterfinals; only eight games remain before we're done. We know you'll have lots to do on Friday what with it being the Fourth, but do join us for France-Germany and Brazil-Colombia. Until then, get some rest, for goodness sake.