[BRAZIL 2014] Before the World Cup began the USA had faced only one European World Cup team twice during theJurgen Klinsmann. Now it gets to face Belgium a third time, this time in the round of 16 Tuesday in Salvador. Loaded with young talent, the Red Devils were highly fancied before the start of the World Cup but they didn't exactly impress in sweeping the weakest of the eight groups. For the case for and against Belgium.
Both USA-Belgium matches ended in Red Devil wins (1-0 and 4-2). The first match was played in Brussels in September 2011, the first road test of the Klinsmann era. The second came only days after the USA assembled in Cleveland for the start of a five-game set that included a friendly against Germany and three friendlies.
Every player the Red Devils started in Cleveland is in Brazil and exposed the U.S. defense with a 15-minute blitz that produced three goals early in the second half. The USA recovered from the trouncing to run off 12 straight wins that broke open the Hexagonal and earned it the 2013 Gold Cup title.
Case for Belgium
1. DEEP SQUAD. The Red Devils have one of the deepest squads in the tournament, and Coach Marc Wilmotshas gone to his bench frequently at the World Cup, getting three of their four goals from subs, Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens and Divock Origi. Wilmots used 19 of his 20 field players in the three games, leaving them fresh for the USA match. Captain Vincent Kompany sat out Thursday's match against South Korea with a groin injury but is expected to be ready on Tuesday.
2. AIR-TIGHT DEFENSE.Belgium has the best defense the USA will have faced at the World Cup It has not allowed a goal since Jan Vertonghen gifted Algeria a penalty kick in the 24th minute of the first game. Besides Courtois and Alderweireld, who won La Liga title with Atletico, the Belgium backline features Kompany, who won the EPL title with Manchester City, Daniel Van Buyten, who won his fourth Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich, and Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham.
3. BIG-GAME EXPERIENCE.Belgium has 10 players on its roster who play on teams that reached the knockout stage of this year's UEFA Champions league, including goalie Thibaut Courtois and defender Toby Alderweireld of runner-up Atletico Madrid.
Case against Belgium
1. NO BENTEKE. Christian Benteke, Belgium's best forward, injured his Achilles tendon and missed the World Cup. Romelu Lukaku was supposed to step in and replace Benteke, but he has not played well. He was upset with Wilmots after being replaced byOrigi, the Kenyan teenager, against Russia and did not play against South Korea. Of the group winners, only Costa Rica scored as few goals as the Red Devils did (four in three games).
2. SLUGGISH PERFORMANCES.Unlike neighboring France or the Netherlands, which both put on electrifying displays in group play, the Red Devils hardly dominated in what was arguably the weakest group. All four goals came in the last 20 minutes of play. Belgium fell behind Algeria early before winning on two late goals. It started better against Russia but then struggled in the second half before Origi got the late winner.
3. WEATHER FACTOR.While the USA was considered to have the worst travel schedule at the World Cup with long trips to steamy Manaus in the Amazon and Natal and Recife in the Northeast, Belgium's travel schedule was considered the best with matches in Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, all close its base camp outside Sao Paulo and all at venues where the temperatures have been moderate. The USA will have a clear edge when it faces Belgium in Salvador, its fourth straight warm-weather venue.
What the Americans say ...
TIM HOWARD (teammate of Kevin Mirallas and Lukaku at Everton and former teammate of Marouane Fellaini at Everton): “They’re a top team. Everyone around Europe will tell you how good they are. They’ve got so many good players, young, fast, good on the ball. I actually think because of that we match up well with them.”
CLINT DEMPSEY (former teammate of Vertonghen at Tottenham and Mousa Dembeleat Fulham and Tottenham): "When they have the ball, they have players that can make a difference in terms of running at you. At the same time, I think we’ve got to be more on the front foot. Play our game. Play more the way that we did against Portugal than what we played [against Germany]. Be a little bit more confident in possession and show a little bit more quality in the attacking third.”
June 17 in Belo Horizonte
Belgium 2 Algeria 1.Goals: Fellaini 70, Mertens 80; Feghouli pen. 25.
Belgium --Courtois, Alderweireld, van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen, Witsel, Dembele (Fellaini 65), Chadli (Mertens 46), De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku (Origi 59).
June 22 in Rio de Janeiro
Belgium 1 Russia 0.Goal: Origi 88.
Belgium -- Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen (Vertonghen 31), Witsel, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Mertens (Mirallas 75), Hazard, Lukaku (Origi 57).
June 26 in Sao Paulo
Belgium 1 South Korea 0. Goal: Vertonghen 78.
Belgium --Courtois, Vertonghen, Lombaerts, Van Buyten, Vanden Borre, Defour, Dembele, Januzaj (Chadli 60), Fellaini, Mertens (Origi 60), Mirallas (Hazard 88).
Goalkeepers:Thibaut Courtois (Atl. Madrid/SPA), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool/ENG), Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim/GER).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atl. Madrid/SPA), Lauren Ciman (Standard Liege), Vincent Kompany (Man. City/ENG), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St. Petersburg/RUS), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich/GER), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal/ENG), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham/ENG).
Midfielders:Nacer Chadli (Tottenham/ENG), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg/GER), Steven Defour (Porto/POR), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham/ENG), Marouane Fellaini (Man. United/ENG), Axel Witsel (Zenit St. Petersburg/RUS).
Forwards: Eden Hazard (Chelsea/ENG), Adnan Januzaj (Man. United/ENG), Romelu Lukaku (Everton/ENG), Dries Mertens (Napoli/ITA), Kevin Mirallas (Everton/ENG), Divock Origi (Lille/FRA).
Note:Sammy Bossut (Zulte-Waregem) replaced Koen Casteels (Hoffenheim/GER) after June 2 deadline.