RIO DE JANEIRO — It was all long faces, but heads held high, for the legion of American fans who traveled to Brazil for the World Cup, only to watch their team lose 2-1 to Belgium in extra time.
Upward of 20,000 people, mostly Americans, packed the golden sands of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro in front of a giant TV screen set up in the FIFA Fan Fest watch area in Rio.
Fans stood and cheered the entire time, packed tightly and with barely any wiggle room to get through the crowd.
Like many fans, Travis Rood, a 28-year-old from Seattle, his face painted red, white and blue and an American flag draped around his shoulder, started to leave the beach after Belgium went up 2-0.
But Rood froze in his tracks and turned around after the U.S. scored a late goal to spark hope that ultimately faded with the final whistle.
"This World Cup was a turning point for us," he said. "People around the world are beginning to respect us as a team."
A common refrain, Rood said there was no shame in losing to the young, talented Belgian team, who now move on to a tough quarter-final match with Argentina.
"They're a small country but on paper," he said of Belgium. "But they're twice as good as we are at soccer."
At a pub in Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, it got so packed people were sitting on the floor to watch the match. They shouted every time U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard made a spectacular save — which he did 16 times.
Many of the American faithful in Sao Paulo were shouting the U.S. chant of "I believe that we will win" throughout the game. Some added emphatically "We love you!" for their team.
But in the end, most acknowledged that Belgium played a much better game, saying the U.S. waited too long to go on the attack.
"Belgium just played much better. They deserve it," said Nick Venditti, a 26-year-old from New York. "I am still happy we made it out of the 'group of death.' That wasn't easy."
He added, hopefully: "In the next four years, we will be so much better."
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.