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The night US soccer flourished, grew up and departed.
A night beyond belief: Yanks fly home with their heads held high
Salvador Stadium awaits the fans

This was the night the amazing ride came to an end.

The US Men's Team departed the 2014 World Cup after an extra time loss to a star studded Belgian side. The introduction of Romelu Lukaku after the regulation ninety minutes was the turning point although it would be foolish to deny how superior Belgium were in every department of the game bar goalkeeping.

There will be uncountable memories for the 20,000 or so traveling American fans. Some of those memories were made on the pitch. Others transpired away from the glare of the cameras and in the company of fans who had come to cheer on their opponents.

Friendships were made there and goals were scored that will be played and replayed for years to come.

Clint Dempsey's opening goal against Ghana will probably narrowly top the replay charts because it burst so many months of fear and apprehension. John Brooks' winner will have its advocates because it stole a most unlikely victory where many were despairing of even holding out for a draw.

Jermaine Jones' screamer against Portugal is worth seeing over and over again.

It will be many months before we fully know the effect this World Cup campaign has had on American soccer. Certainly the television ratings for the next round of MLS matches will be an early indicator. Perhaps US Soccer will let us know about jersey sales.

The USA redefined the Group of Death by emerging from it. They are at their best when written off. The American challenge may be to rise up the World rankings but never lose its own underdog status, at least not until a player of genuine world class ability once more changes the trajectory and path of US soccer.

That is longer term. The next challenge. For tonight, the mass USA support can revel in an amazing effort against a class opponent that just fell short.

Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, Bahia, BRAZIL; United States goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) makes a save against Belgium during the second half of their round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The match began with Belgian domination.

Lille's Divock Origi called upon Howard to save within a minute as the Red Devils looked very lively from the outset. Their game was fast with the Belgian individual quality evident probably dominant at least until Clint Dempsey tested Courtois. He perhaps should have tested him a little more.

Kevin de Bruyne wasted the half's best chance after Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen powered through a backpedaling US midfield but the Wolfsburg midfielder scuffed wide with Howard grounded.

DaMarcus Beasley was next to save the USA with a spectacular clearance from under the bar inside the half hour. Vertonghen was proving to be the American's main torturer, looking very threatening from the left wing.

The reason became apparent when US right back Fabian Johnson went down injured not to return. DeAndre Yedlin took up his club berth at right back.

Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, BRAZIL; United States defender Matt Besler (5) reacts as Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel (6) celebrates following the game during the round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Belgium defeated USA 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nine minutes into the second half, a wicked cross from Belgium's left evaded Besler and luckily Origi. A cross however from left midfield did not and the Yanks were fortunate to see his header scrape the bar. Seconds later Vertonghen forced a leg save from Tim Howard, and seconds thereafter blasted over the Everton keeper's bar.

The Belgians were knocking and the Americans found defense to be the worst form of defense and poured forward looking for their own goal. Such resistance was temporary.

Dreis Mertens put the ball wide of Howard's post and it seemed a matter of time. To make things worse, Howard's Everton colleague Kevin Mirallas came on to both replace Mertens and torture the US backline.

The Belgian passing was snappier and the Americans seemed to be struggling though they had overcome that impression before to survive.  They began to look tired far earlier than in other games. 

Howard saved the US again with his legs, Origi again being the victim. Klinsmann acted to close the gap between Dempsey and his colleagues by introducing San Jose's Chris Wondolowski for Zusi. Wondolowski's runs immediately made USA look more threatening on the ball.

Howard's legs denied Belgium again after Mirallas cleverly beat the offside trap. Then his hands denied Hazard. Could his forwards make his heroism count?

Besler was next up making a superb penalty box tackle. Howard tipped Origi's blast over the bar. Extra time arrived.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01: Julian Green of the United States (R) celebrates scoring his team's f...

After the 90 though, another teammate of Howard's Romelu Lukaku came on and he was to prove the difference maker. 

His freshness on his first possession ran the tired US defenders ragged. His cross was deflected out to De Bruyne who finished beyond the brave Howard.

Lukaku seed to have made the match certain for Belgium with a rasping finish from ten yards after De Bruyne returned the favor.  The US had collapsed in the first period of overtime.

But count them out at your peril.

Julian Green volleyed Bradley's delivery past Courtois in the second half of extra time and mayhem ensued. Courtois was forced to dive at feet in a scramble. The white shirts battered the red thereafter and came so agonizingly close on a number of occasions.

The finish wasn't there and the USA leave this tournament with their heads held high.

Their players and their fans have illuminated this competition in ways far beyond what I had imagined, and in ways we may not fully appreciate for some time.

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10 hrs. ago

M'Baye Niang put the nightmare of the Paris terror attacks firmly behind him with two goals and an assist as AC Milan crushed a sorry Sampdoria 4-1 at the San Siro on Saturday.

Niang admitted last week the events of the past fortnight had left him worried for the safety of family and friends in and around the French capital.

But the 20-year-old from the Paris suburbs produced a confident performance for the Rossoneri, first delivering for Giacomo Bonaventura's opener on 16 minutes and then beating Emiliano Viviano from the spot after the Milan winger had been hauled down in the area seven minutes before the interval.

Niang secured Milan's seventh win of the campaign when he fired under Viviano four minutes after the restart after the 'keeper's fluffed clearance.

When he was replaced by Luiz Adriano 15 minutes from the whistle it took the Brazilian just four minutes to find the net after volleying Alessio Cerci's intelligent cross past Viviano.

The only blot on Milan's copybook was Gianluigi Donnarumma's failure to stop Luis Muriel from the spot after Andrea Pioli had tugged on Eder in the area in the closing minutes.

Milan moved up to fifth place at seven points behind leaders Inter ahead of the remainder of the weekend matches, with Sampdoria's second successive defeat under new coach Vincenzo Montella leaving them 14 points adrift.

"It was an almost perfect performance," said Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, who gave a special mention to Niang.

"He's a big player for us, he was doing really well in pre-season then he got injured. Now he's back in form and he's doing well, but he already showed at Genoa (loan) what he was made of."

For the fifth consecutive match Mihajlovic opted for teenage goalkeeper Donnarumma over the more experienced Diego Lopez but the 16-year-old had to dive low to parry after his messy clearance fell to Roberto 

Soriano 30 yards out in the opening minute.

From then on, it was all Milan with Niang the main protagonist before making way for Adriano on 74 minutes.

Having spent the last half of last season on loan at Genoa, the striker said he in enjoying playing in a pure 

striker's role under Mihajlovic.

"I'm really happy because I've been waiting for this for a longtime, the hard work's paying off and I hope it continues like this," said Niang.

"I played as a centre-forward, the position I prefer and I think that along with our win over Lazio this was our best display this season."

Milan broke the deadlock on 16 minutes with Alessio Cerci, whose eighth minute goal was ruled offside, involved before Niang burst down the right to fire in a weighted delivery that Bonaventura slid in to meet at the back post.

Milan built on their momentum and Niang almost doubled the lead when he collected Juraj Kucka's short delivery on the right to drag his angled shot inches wide of Viviano's far post.

Sampdoria were struggling to find any rhythm and Milan's movement in the final third of the pitch was causing huge problems for the visitors.

Niang left Edgar Barreto behind to burst down the right and fire across the bows, but Bonaventura's first-timer from the six-yard line blasted over.

Samp's only real chance came when Luis Muriel dribbled his way into the area but despite turning Milan's defence his promising strike was blocked by Alessio Romagnoli.

Niang came close twice with flicks that inched wide of Viviano's post just after the restart.

But when the 'keeper fluffed a clearance, Niang collected and strode confidently into the area to fire under his body and secure the second brace of his Serie A career, after hitting a double for Genoa against Verona last season.

A tiring Niang soon made way for Adriano and only four minutes later Cerci was given time and space to the right of the area to pick out the Brazilian with a pinpoint pass which he controlled before firing past a helpless Viviano.

Earlier, Torino moved up to seventh place with a 2-0 home win over Bologna thanks to second-half goals from Andrea Belotti and Giuseppe Vives.