Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said he suffered near heart failure as his side recorded a 2-1 extra time victory over the United States.
The Red Devils failed to take any of numerous chances in the 90 minutes, then scored twice to seemingly settle the game before allowing the US back into the contest in an edge-of-the-seat finish.
After dominating the game and being frustrated by an inspired Tim Howard in the US goal, Kevin De Bruyne struck in the 93rd minute, collecting a loose ball before turning and firing home an angled shot.
In a pulsating extra time period, substitute Romelu Lukaku powered home a second on 105 minutes after a neat De Bruyne pass before Julian Green’s volley ensured a tense finish in which Clint Dempsey almost sneaked an equaliser for the US.
“Usually at this level of football when you miss that many chances you don’t advance, even if you play fantastically. But we were able to show mental strength and a physical level to see us through,” Wilmots said.
“I can believe it was a brilliant game for the spectators to watch but it was no good for my heart. I said to the players after, ‘don’t do that to me again’.”
Belgium silenced their critics and put behind them a slow start to the World Cup, with Wilmots happy with the number of chances created by his team.
“We had something like 27 chances in the game and we deserved our win. We created a chance after just two minutes and it was fantastic goalkeeping from Tim Howard that kept us out,” Wilmots said.
“We saw a lot of football from Belgium tonight. I’d say we played a good game, we were brave and we are into the quarter-finals.”
Belgium had been taken to task for failing to live up to expectations at the tournament even though they won all of their opening round matches.
One of those heavily criticised was striker Lukaku, dropped for the last-16 match against the Americans at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, but whose entry at the start of extra time finally turned the tide Belgium’s way.
“It was right to criticise him but I told him that the knockout phase would belong to him, he would have his day,” Wilmots said.
But the heroics of Howard and the plucky fight of the Americans meant the contest was not settled until after two hours of furious football.
US coach Juergen Klinsmann described Howard’s performance as “phenomenal”.
“He had an absolutely amazing match; you can give him the biggest compliments in the world. He kept us in the game over the 120 minutes.”
“It was a game that just went to the extreme,” Klinsmann said. “We just needed a little bit more luck.”
Belgium will face Argentina on Saturday in Brasilia in the quarter-finals.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press