Belgium vs USA Preview | FIFA World Cup 2014: Last 16

Belgium vs USA Preview | FIFA World Cup 2014: Last 16

Belgium will take on the United States at the Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador in the first round of knockout football for a place in the last 8. It should be an interesting affair as both the teams come into this round with relatively different results in their respective group stage fixtures. Belgium boasts a 100% record in their group stage encounters with 3 narrow wins out of 3 while the United States ended the group stage with 4 points beating Ghana, playing out a sensational 2-2 draw against Portugal and losing their final game 1-0 against Germany – edging Portugal out on goal difference, finishing runners-up.

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When it comes to the knockout rounds in such a big tournament, the form book goes out of the window, they say. Belgium, touted as this World Cup’s ‘dark horses’ could go all the way with the players they have but the United States certainly would not roll over and Jurgen Klinsmann looks quietly confident of his team’s chances of progression. But then, getting past Belgium is no easy task. So far they have conceded only one goal – a penalty at that – in three games. And in Thibaut Courtois, it has arguably the most exciting young goalkeeper in the world.

Belgium on the other hand will need a victory to ensure their ‘golden generation’ to achieve something worth talking about and Marc Wilmots has already hinted his team is even ready to play ugly and dull football if it meant they were going to advance. He has stated,

“What counts – always – is to win and advance, Every error is paid cash at the tiller. So what does ‘the most beautiful football’ mean? You tell me.”

Team News

While team captain Vincent Kompany has been excellent in the two games he’s played, the central defender has been struggling with a recurring groin strain and is a doubt for Tuesday’s game. Another starter, Thomas Vermaelen, has a hamstring injury and has resumed individual exercises. Whether he can play or not will be another last-minute decision. Add to that the cracked fibula of right back Anthony Vanden Borre and an abductor strain for Laurent Ciman, and Belgium coach Marc Wilmots could be in trouble.

In the last two games, Klinsmann opted for a formation with five midfielders to feed lone striker Clint Dempsey. Jozy Altidore, the top American forward, has been sidelined since straining his left hamstring, in the first half against Ghana and has been training on his own. Klinsmann, in his pre-game press conference did sound optimistic regarding the towering Altidore’s chances of making it to the starting line-up. He said,

“Every day is a big step forward with Jozy. It’s 11 days now [since the Ghana game], and its looking better every day.”

Probable Starting Lineups

Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini, De Bruyne; Mertens, Mirallas, Origi

USA: Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi; Dempsey

Interesting Numbers

The U.S. hasn’t played Belgium in the World Cup since winning 3-0 in its opening match of the very first tournament in 1930.

The Belgians have defeated the USA four times in their last five meetings, their most recent victory being a 4-2 success in a friendly match last May.

USA has been placed 31st out of 32 teams in terms of the number of attacks they mounted, with 72 – Costa Rica were the only team to attack less often, with 69. Klinsmann’s team, who have been out-shot by opponents 54-27, had 41% of possession against Ghana, 48% against Portugal and 37% against Germany.

Key Men – Eden Hazard and Michael Bradley

Jose Mourinho calls him the best young player in the world, one that can provide ‘the magic moments that can win games in one action’. Eden Hazard is arguably Belgium’s most exciting player, if nothing else, and will be the key to unlocking a United States defence that has not been at it’s absolute best in this World Cup. He has been relatively quiet in the group stages, but has still assisted winning goals for Dries Mertens and Divock Origi against Algeria and Russia respectively.

Much has been talked about Michael Bradley’s dip in form which is why he would be my key man for the United States football (erm..soccer) team. The Toronto FC midfielder whose struggles for form have prompted attention from press and fans, was singled out by FIFA for running 23.6 miles across the three group games. His nearest challenger in terms of such industriousness was the Chile midfielder Marcelo Diaz.  In his recent interview, Klinsmann has highlighted Bradley’s relentlessness on the pitch, an under-rated trait in football which can be very handy in stopping a team like Belgium. Of Bradley’s struggles for form, which have included giving the ball away for Portugal’s equalising goal, Klinsmann said,

“If he already plays on this level right now, we came through this group because of his influence on the field, then if he steps it up another notch, it gives us with other players as well … a big hope now getting ready for the knockout stage. Because we know that players have not reached their highest spot yet. [Bradley] is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him. The leadership … I mean he has covered so much ground. He is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding.”

Prediction

It is the knockout stage and anything can happen in football. The USA will have to break the shackles and come out trying to genuinely attack the opponents to have any chance of beating a team of Belgium’s quality. Whilst Belgium have not been exactly impressive themselves, they can be expected to rise to the occasion and shift gears when it actually matters. Can the Red Devils go marching on? Or, is there a United States victory on the cards? Only time will tell.

Belgium 2-1 USA