US forward and captain Clint Dempsey (R) vies with Belgium's midfielder Marouane Fellaini (L). *AFP photo
US forward and captain Clint Dempsey (R) vies with Belgium's midfielder Marouane Fellaini (L). *AFP photo

USA were knocked out of the World Cup tonight but won the hearts of football fans worldwide after a sensational match in Salvador.

Belgium, who were denied for so long by an extraordinary display from keeper Tim Howard and an astonishingly-determined USA, created a host of chances before finally locating the back of the net twice in extra-time.

But Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, who fought manfully throughout the 120 minutes, then staged a late rally that not only rattled their more fancied opponents but almost saw them almost draw level and force  penalties.

Kevin De Bruyne opened the scoring just three minutes into the first extra period before substitute Romelu Lukaku — such an influential performer from the bench — thought he’d put the game beyond doubt.

No-one, it seems, told USA, who replied almost instantly through Julian Green before, to a man, they strained every sinew in search of an equalizer.

It didn’t come, although a superbly-worked free-kicked gave Clint Dempsey a sighter in front of the on-rushing Thiabut Courtois, who superbly thwarted the danger.

Courtois’ opposite number Howard, meanwhile, made 15 saves — the highest ever recorded in a World Cup match.

Earlier, in the final moments of normal time, Chris Wondolowski missed a sitter for USA but his blushes were saved by an offside flag, which was wrongly raised. It’s Belgium, though, who now have a quarter-final clash with Argentina to look forward to on Saturday. 

USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann said: “Obviously it’s a bummer for us to end on the losing side in a game that gave everything to the fans and to the crowd. A thriller, we had enough possibilities to equalise in that game.

“Congratulations to Belgium. It was a game which went to the extreme.

“We are all very proud of our team, they gave everything they had and they made their country proud.

“The sport will only continue to grow. The league is getting stronger and stronger and we are into another four-year cycle of Olympics, Gold Cup, Copa America and World Cup.”

He added: “Tim Howard played phenomenal. He was outstanding and he kept us in the game. 

“We knew we would have chances if we kept going forward but he was absolutely amazing.

“You can give him the biggest compliments in the world. 

“The longer he keeps you in the game you hope that you will get the breaks going forward. 

“You can build on the back of Tim. Games are decided by little things and thanks to Tim we had that possibility throughout 120 minutes.”

Belgium goalkeeper Courtois was a relieved man: “I made a great save with the chest and it was important in that moment.

“Argentina are a really good side, it will be very difficult game. We are not thinking about the semi-finals.”

Bermuda’s Nahki Wells was quick to join the praise of the USA team, tweeting: “USA have come such a long way. 20 years ago they couldn’t even beat Bermuda. 

“Now they  showed the world what they have. #Wellsurprised”