CLEVELAND (AP) — Christian Benteke scored two goals in the second half and Marouane Fellaini had another, leading Belgium to a 4-2 thrashing of the United States on Wednesday night in an international friendly the Americans hoped would get them ready for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Boasting a strong roster with 10 players from the English Premier League, Belgium broke a 1-1 tie with three goals in the second half. It overpowered a U.S. team that has some work to do on defense before it can even think about making the field for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Benteke, who plays for Aston Villa, scored in the 56th and 71st minutes for Belgium, ranked 15th in the world and considered a rising European power.
Geoff Cameron scored in the 22nd minute and Clint Dempsey pounded in a penalty kick in the 80th minute for the U.S.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann figured Belgium would provide a stiff challenge for his evolving team, and while the Americans had some nice moments, the Belgians controlled the game from the outset.
Belgium took advantage of poor defense to score three of its goals.
With the score 1-1 in the 56th minute, a turnover by American midfielder Brad Davis was compounded by defender Omar Gonzalez’s failure to clear the ball in front of the net. Gonzalez could have easily booted it over the touch or end line, but instead left the ball for Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne. He centered it to Benteke for an easy tap-in past goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who replaced Tim Howard in the second half.
Guzan came up with a nice save in the 64th minute, but seconds later he was fishing the ball from his net again. Fellaini, known as much for his puffy hairdo as his skills, headed his goal into the left corner off a beautiful cross by De Bruyne to make it 3-1.
In the 71st minute, Benteke streaked behind defenders DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler and chipped in a pass from Steven Defour.
The U.S. later cut the deficit in half when referee Jeffery Solis awarded a penalty kick after calling Toby Alderweireld for a questionable hand ball in the box.
Earlier, while being outplayed and unable to get off a shot, the U.S. tied it 1-1 in the 22nd minute on Cameron’s first international goal.
Graham Zusi sent an effective short corner kick across the goal mouth to Dempsey posted on the right side. The U.S. captain alertly headed it back over Belgium’s defense to Cameron, who jumped and headed it past keeper Simon Mignolet.
Howard was tested a few more times in the first half as Belgium mounted several scoring threats and outshot the Americans 5-1 in the first 45 minutes.
The Americans also caught two fortunate breaks in the opening half.
In the 26th minute, speedy Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku’s goal was waved off by an offside call. However, TV replays appeared to show Lukaku was onside.
Also, Beasley, playing in his 100th international game, might have gotten away with a hand ball when he blocked a pass inside the box.
A breakdown by the U.S. defense allowed Belgium to take a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute. De Bruyne played a through ball to speedy Lukaku, who got behind Gonzalez. Lukaku got off a quick shot from the left side that was smothered by Howard, who was unable to control the rebound. and Kevin Mirallas, Howard’s teammate at Everton, scored on a nice chip into the empty net.
The early deficit gave Klinsmann a chance to see how his team would react, and for the most part, the Americans responded in the first half before being outscored 3-1 in the second half.
Outside the home of the Cleveland Browns, parking lots normally crammed on NFL Sundays with fans were packed with tailgaters, some of whom kicked around soccer balls before heading inside for the match. The announced attendance was 27,720. The Browns are hoping to host more international matches in the future, maybe even landing some top European clubs who have been visiting the U.S. in recent years.