The Arena Fonte Nova provided the stage for 52,227 spectators to witness a pulsating encounter between USA and Belgium that was only decided after a nail-biting finale in extra time. Infectious chants of “USA, USA” coursed through the stands in waves and even had the local Brazilian fans joining in by the end. However, come the final whistle it was still not enough to book USA a place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals, as the Red Devils edged to victory.
“It was a dramatic match,” USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann told FIFA.comafterwards. “Belgium had more chances than we did but Tim Howard kept us in the game. The longer it went on the more opportunities we created though. Even after going 2-0 down we still hoped that we could get ourselves back in it if we got a goal, and that’s what happened. We had a couple of really good chances in the last few minutes and that’s where you hope that luck is on your side. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case today. I congratulate Belgium on reaching the next round.”
Despite the defeat and the post-match chaos taking place around him, Klinsmann was a calm figure and smiled as he spoke. Indeed, that composure served the 49-year-old well during the match, as his decision to bring substitute Julian Green on in the 105th minute paid swift dividends when the youngster scored with his first touch to reduce the deficit and give the Stars and Stripes hope of a comeback.
“Julian is one of our brightest talents and he’s still developing,” Klinsmann said of the 19-year-old Bayern Munich forward. “He showed what he’s capable of in the 15 minutes he had. Of course he still needs time and it won’t just happen overnight. We’ve got a few young players coming through and that gives us optimism looking ahead to the future of American football and the national team.
“It was a phenomenal tournament for us,” Klinsmann continued. “We survived the group of death with Germany, Ghana and Portugal and were able to give as good as we got against Belgium for 120 minutes. The team deserve huge credit for that and there are a lot of positives we can take from this experience.”
The side may have suffered a painful defeat in Brazil, but football in the USA in general has gained from the exposure and the level of support has been overwhelming. Stars from other sports, such as baseball, basketball and American football have been cheering the team on, as have a number of Hollywood actors.
“Football is definitely on the right track in the USA,” a visibly disappointed Green told FIFA.com. “I’ve seen a few pictures on television of the pubs and stadiums in America and it’s fantastic to see so many people. I think the World Cup has been decisive in getting things going there. When I scored my goal I was so happy and I thought: ‘now it’s 2-1, we can still come back from this.’ Unfortunately we weren’t able to.”
Growing fan base *Nevertheless, the team’s style of play won over countless neutrals and showed that football is thriving in a country more renowned for its preference for other sports. “We had a really good World Cup,” Jermaine Jones said in an interview with *FIFA.comafter the game. “We showed a few countries who weren’t expecting us to do well that they always need to give 100 per cent against us. We’ve got a young team and now it’s up to the older players to try to lift them again. Losing is part of sport and unfortunately we experienced that today, but we’ll bounce back. I’m absolutely sure of it. I hope football’s standing has changed now. After the last World Cup the euphoria went a bit over the top but we’ve always said we’re a team that can create a lot of hype.”
That is certainly true, and after sweeping an entire country along with them in the process, the disappointment at being eliminated has been tempered somewhat. “I’m supporting Germany now,” said Jones, who was born and raised in Germany as well as spending over 15 years of his career there. “I hope they win it.”