SALVADOR: Marc Wilmots spurred his players on towards victory – albeit a tough one – over the United States in the World Cup second round by telling them about airline timetables writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

He explained later: “I told my players: ‘There are two flights today. One goes to Brasilia. It’s up to you.’ They wanted to go to Brasilia.”

This is where Belgium will confront Argentina in the quarter-finals on Saturday after beating a US team managed by his old friend Jurgen Klinsmann 2-1 after extra time.

Belgium dominated the match, peppered keeper Tim Howard’s goal but could not find a way through until after Wilmots replaced centre-forward Divock Origi with Romelu Lukaku at the start of extra time.

Lukaku had been dropped after poor performances in the group games and had apparently learned the lessons about attitude.

Wilmots said: “You [the media] criticised Romelu Lukaku and you were right. But I told him: ‘Don’t worry. I feel the second round might be your day.’ — and this is what happened.

“It was a difficult decision with Divock. We can all see the skills this player has. He turns quickly, he finds spaces and creates spaces for his team-mates and he scores as well.

‘Top performance’

“The only problem was that he didn’t score tonight so, though he had a very good match he hadn’t been able to deliver goals and I felt this was Romelu’s moment — he deserved it because of his mentality in training and I’m extremely proud of him. It was a top performance.”

Wilmots made a point of talking up Belgium’s attacking intent from the outset after media criticism of his cautious approach in the group games.

He said: “We went forward with a lot of movement. We created a chance after two minutes and we had 27 shots on goal. Everybody said we had no football but I think you saw our football ut there so there should no more worries from the media on that score.

“We passed the first round and we passed the round of 16. We won because of our mental strength. The US played very bravely but I think they were burned out. I was very happy for my players but I did say to them: ‘Please, for my heart, don’t do that to me again.”

Just before the second half the television cameras picked up Wilmots sharing a joke with Klinsmann.

Asked what they were discussing Wilmots said: “We’ve known each other for 20 years and we were chatting about the game. We have a very good relationship. I love people who are passionate about football.

“I was laughing about the amount of chances we had had without scoring goals . . . maybe I was laughing more than him.”