The United States–Belgium Round of 16 match is arguably the United States’ biggest FIFA World Cup knockout round match since 2002 against eventual runners-up Germany. Talk to an American soccer fan and they’ll either shout the trademark “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN” chant or tell you they’re scared out of their minds.
Here’s the reason why: The Belgians have some of the best individual talent on their roster. They came into this World Cup as a dark horse contender ready to declare to the world that Belgian football had finally arrived. Only the Belgian team has not lived up to the high expectations placed upon them — yet.
That’s the fear the American fans have. Given how Belgium have not lost to the Americans in international football since 1930, there’s plenty of concern. The Belgians have plenty of offensive firepower, particularly in Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard and arguably one of the best defenders in Europe, Vincent Kompany. The good news? Kompany’s injured and might not play against the U.S., so now you get to see how the USA might have an advantage.
They’ll have to play that advantage, however. The Belgian team is no slouch defensively, as they only gave up one goal in group play but could not score until the later stages of their matches. The Americans, however, have scored early in their matches. The Americans will have to get their offensive ball rolling early if they want to stop the Belgians. With Jozy Altidore cleared to play, he could come on either as a starter or as a sub.
The Belgian central defenders are their strength, but if the U.S. can spread the attack out to the wings, then they could slip past the Belgian defense and score on goalie Thibault Courtois. That means the parking the bus strategy cannot continue to be utilized. As mentioned earlier, the Belgians have enough firepower to make Tim Howard‘s life miserable. If the defense cannot solidify, one or two shots could slip past him.
Offensively, Clint Dempsey should be given a partner up top, whether it be Altidore or Chris Wondolowski, to give them some firepower. In midfield, Jermaine Jones has been as solid as a rock but Michael Bradley has not. Bradley will have to find his game again if the Americans want to keep possession.
But if there is one advantage the Americans have it’s escaping the Group of Death. The Belgians did not perform as well against half-dead competition which could be a HUGE mental advantage for the Americans.
Jurgen Klinsmann‘s certainly got a lot on his plate for the game. But given how he’s been able to motivate his players and find ways to out-coach his opponents, the Americans have a very good chance to slip into the quarterfinals.