For a tournament that has largely produced very exciting games, with teams attacking each other and going toe-to-toe for 90 minutes, the USMNT sure has bucked that trend with their approach to the World Cup. With that said, the U.S. are now looking forward to a second round game against Belgium, whereas some of their more adventurous and entertaining counterparts have already gone home.
In facing Belgium, the U.S. will be facing a talented team, but one which has yet to really fire in the games they have played. The Red Devils have looked susceptible in defense, ponderous in possession and fairly one dimensional in attack, but still, there is a word of caution for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team.
The Belgians were one of the most tipped teams before the tournament began because of the talent they have in their ranks. Although they have obviously not played as they would have liked to this point, the talent remains intact. And if given the chance, the Belgians could produce the kind of performance everybody was expecting beforehand. The U.S. should be confident, but wary nonetheless.
One noticeable trait from the opening games of Belgium has been their inability to penetrate a tight and compact defense. When faced with that exact challenge, they tend to take too long holding the ball in areas where they can do no damage, and play at a tempo which is clearly too slow. When they do attack, they inevitably go to their wide players who always come inside to the congested center of the pitch. And their fullbacks, who are really center-backs, rarely provide an overlap which poses too much of a danger.
One of the biggest dangers of Belgium is Eden Hazard, and he is a player who plays on the left wing, and epitomizes the exact problem Blegium have had. He constantly wants to drive inside, instead of going around the outside of the deep sitting defense. It plays into the defending team’s hands, and especially a U.S. team which will likely flood the center of midfield with Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Michael Bradley.
If the U.S. try to open up and play toe-to-toe with Belgium, it could be suicide. It might actually work, but it could still be suicide. Klinsmann needs to set his team up in a similar vein to the previous games they have already played in the tournament. The defense needs to sit deep, with a compact midfield ahead of them, force the Belgian wide players to constantly come inside and then use quick counter attacks on the break. The U.S. can really frustrate the Belgians if they stick to a game plan, as lesser organized teams have done so already against Belgium.
There is always the chance that the Belgium everybody has been waiting for and expecting, might just show up. But regardless of which version turns up on the day, the U.S. just needs to stick to their game plan. One thing that is certain, is that Belgium are very dangerous from the bench, and that is something which could turn the game if the Belgians need to call on it.
What the U.S. need to call on is their defense, their determination, their grit, their never say die attitude and, above all else, their belief. They may have to be cautious in the game, and they are clearly playing a more talented team, but they should still be optimistic of their chances. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to win, and the U.S. are certainly capable of that. Now, it’s just a matter of actually doing it.