Having survived and advanced from the ‘Group of Death’ in this year’s World Cup, you would think the USMNT would have nothing to fear in the knockout stages. Well, as things have transpired, that is actually true as Jurgen Klinsmann‘s men will have much to respect, but nothing to fear when they play a much-fancied Belgium team in the second round.
Belgium came into the World Cup as the popular pick for a lot of people. They were tagged as the dark horses so much so that they were actually no longer dark horses — more like the elephant in the room. In the three games Belgium have played so far, however, they have not looked close to the team that most people expected.
Their individual talent is undeniable, and individuals have provided glimpses of quality to win them games so far, but as a team, it just doesn’t seemed to have clicked so far for the Red Devils. Perhaps they are feeling the pressure of the expectancy level and everybody’s eagerness to see them play. Either way, so far, they just haven’t performed.
Their star attacker, Eden Hazard, has only shown his class in spurts and he doesn’t look the same player as he has playing for Chelsea in the last couple of years. The center of midfield has been problematic too and it doesn’t look like it has quite the right balance. Head coach, Marc Wilmots, has been tinkering with that area to try and get it right, but really, that should have been done before the tournament, not during.
Striker, Romelu Lukaku, has struggled to make any impact as yet and, if Christian Benteke was healthy, he would probably not even be in the starting XI right now. The defense is another area which has been suspect to this point. Their captain, Vincent Kompany, who has had numerous injuries for his club, Manchester City, this past season, seems to be carrying an injury of some kind into this tournament too. Belgium have also been using center-backs in both full back positions, and that is an area that every team who encounters the Belgians will be looking to exploit.
Even if they are not quite clicking as a team, though, the talent still exists within the squad and a deep bench has gotten them out of trouble on more than one occasion in the group stage. That may well be the biggest concern for the USMNT heading into the game — they can certainly change proceedings with quality from the bench.
This Belgium team is a team to be respected, and has quality to concern the Americans, but they are a team that nobody should, or likely is, fearing. Everything before the tournament began suggested completely the opposite, of course, but then again, everything before the tournament suggested the USMNT would be on their way home right about now.
Neither have transpired quite the way they were expected too, and now, with an underwhelming Belgium going up against an organized and gritty team of the U.S., there is every possibility that this game may not go the way many will be expecting it to either.