On Tuesday the meeting between Belgium and the United States in the round of 16 of World Cup 2014 will be a battle between two survivors. Belgium might have had an easier group, but not an easy time. The U.S. wiggled out of the Group of Death.
Juergen Klinsmann is confident in his side and has told members of the official party to change their travel plans for flights home at the end of the tournament. Once out of group stage at this open and unpredictable World Cup, it is clear anything is possible. So why not dream and believe it is possible at the same time?
Belgium must be confident too, but wary about the way results played out in its first three games of the World Cup. The Red Devils, as Belgium is known, feature a golden generation of young stars that light up Europe’s top leagues. So far in Brazil the stars have not come together as a team and have looked less than convincing in three one-goal wins.
The wins over Algeria, Russia and South Korea might not earn style points for Belgium, but they still count. For all its promise in attack, Belgium has taken a conservative approach. It has worked and in 270 minutes of soccer at this World Cup Belgium has only conceded one goal, in its opening against Algeria, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has two shutouts.
1. Be ready for Belgium to strike. Win or go home are the choices now and it would not be a surprise to see the Belgium return to the attacking flair that helped the side qualify for the World Cup. In its European qualifying group for the World Cup Belgium won eight of ten games and outscored opponents 18-4. The Belgians have to see the game against the United States as an amazing opportunity to get past the round of 16 at the World Cup for the first time since 1986 when they lost to Argentina in the semifinals. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas are dangerous from wide positions, while Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini is a threat coming from the center.
2. Attack wide and often. The U.S. cannot rely on the cat and mouse game it played against Germany. This is not about limiting damage, but winning. For that the United States needs to return to the form it showed against Portugal with better possession and control from Michael Bradley and use of the flanks. From his right back position Fabian Johnson often has been the spark to the American offense and Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya need to be ready to challenge with crosses into the area. The Belgian midfield can be stifling and adds to the pressure on the U.S to spread the field. If Jozy Altidore, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, is able to contribute that will give the U.S. a much needed target to play through. A player like Altidore can hold it and draw the defense and then distribute the ball wide for delivery back into the area.
Prediction: The United States and Belgium were supposed to a closed-door training game in Brazil the week before the World Cup started, but traffic in Sao Paulo forced it to be canceled. Now it is for real and I still believe. United States 1 Belgium 0