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The case for and against Belgium's Red Devils
by Paul Kennedy, June 27th, 2014 12:25AM

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TAGS:  belgium, men's national team, world cup 2014

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[BRAZIL 2014] Before the World Cup began the USA had faced only one European World Cup team twice during the Jurgen 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 Wilmots has 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 by Origi, 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 Dembele at 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.”

Group H

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).

Roster

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.


12 comments
  1. Valerie Metzler
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 8:36 a.m.
    We beat Belgium once already at the WC. In 1930.

  1. cisco martinez
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.
    Belgium on paper is a great team, but so was Ghana, we won 2-1, so was Portugal, we tied 2-2, I believe....I believe that....I believe that weeee... I believe that we will win!

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 9:48 a.m.
    Salvador is a good city for European teams. France, Germany, Netherland and Bosnia recorded huge wins (although 3 of them against other European teams). Actually, this city has witnessed the most goals in the group stage. A total of 21 goals in 4 games (5.25 goal per game). Expect a high scoring game and I don't think Belgium will have a problem with the weather.

  1. Fingers Crossed
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 9:53 a.m.
    Belgium may look stronger on paper but when the whistle blows....all bets are off. The US is extremely resilient and that will help them when they face off against the Red Devils, who have not had to face any adversity in the World Cup so far.

  1. Mark Hardt
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.
    USA has the edge on intangible: Heart, determination, will to win, toughness, resiliancy etc. So they will stay in the game and have a chance at the end. As for the Bradely haters. I looked at the roster again and only Mix Diskirud is plausible to replace Bradely. I also saw Green and wondered why he is there again? Green's slot is a wasted slot. Some one capable of backing up Bradley or altidore should be there. Again Klinsi is grooming this kid for 2018 and it cost a spot to somebody who can actually help in the case of injury or bad performance. For example, Gonzales was a great roster choice.

  1. Chris Sapien
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 1:20 p.m.
    Good take, Mark. We play our best when we are allowed to attack, because although we may allow counters, I think we actually play better defensively when we are not just asked to sit and defend! (counter-intuitive, I know) Also, does anyone else ever notice we are almost always outnumbered in our final attacking third?? No wonder we never force defenders to make covering decisions and fouls committed in dangerous areas. I can only remember one DFK in the final third against Ger.

  1. Scott O'connor
    commented on: June 27, 2014 at 2:55 p.m.
    We are going to be the most difficult team they have faced so far in this tournament. They are only the 3rd most difficult team we have faced. That is the benfit of getting out of the group of Death; we're battle tested and ready against top opposition. Belgium has made a tough task of 3 teams that they shouldn't have. Klinsmann is going to have them ready to play against Belgium and Belgium may be looking past us to Argentina in the quarters.... I like the set up!

  1. M B
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 8:40 a.m.
    Let's see: Brutal heat. Humidity. Big Phil as the trainer, one never and not known for the Joga Bonita. Referees, none of whom, Webb included, who have a clue about the Laws of the Game as applies to "Advantage." Referees who kill any and all flow of the game because they use their whistle just way too much. No game here at this tournament is watchable due to stoppages practically every 25 - 50 seconds. Then the stoppages are just way too long. This game once more illustrated what an utter joke the FIFA men's World Cup has become quadrennially. It's all just a massive waste of time. Anyone could have told you that Chile would lose. The last thing that FIFA wants is for Brazil to drop out yet. So...it does not take a big Crystal Ball to state that Colombia stands no chance in just a few days. The tournament would be an utter failure if Brazil did not reach the semi finals (guaranteeing a last match in either the final or the third place match). Don't you see? Don't be duped. This is all lousy Vaudeville show, put on by the money hungry and greedy. Example: See White Elephant stadium in Manaus.

  1. M B
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 8:55 a.m.
    I see game manipulation. If you don't, you don't have eyes. Or a brain. Example Russia vs. Algeria. Algeria had to stay in so as to round out the Africa contingent after Ghana, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast so utterly horridly underperformed. FIFA wants to sell this as a World event. Well, did anyone notice an Asian team doing anything remotely noteworthy? The only surprise has been the relatively solid performances of Costa Rica. But I would just call this a hiccup. It is still a South America vs. Northern Europe tournament (only possible exception to this is Italy in years like 2006) almost exclusively. But the quality of play due to many factors, not least of which is utter stupid climate (It will be 96 degrees field temperature at the Belgian - USA kickoff; see Netherlands - Mexico game temperatures). So the simple answer is "No." No, there will not be one game that one records on DVD or by any other means that one will want to pull out and watch from all 66 Brasil 2014 WC games in 2 or 3 years to bask in some sort of "gloriously played match" from the FIFA 2014 World Cup. It was no different in South Africa or in Germany in 2006. I don't like Russia. The awarding of Russia the 2018 games was a full corruption joke. The only pleasant aspect of this will be the climate for matches. South Africa 2010 featured good climate for many matches; however, the lack of teamwork in these national teams is just always appaling. It is much better to see a UEFA Europa League team in the round of 16 playing in March every year or a CL squad at the same time. Then one sees some cohesivness and teamwork. The present World Cup tournament nations are just swiftly cobbled together groups of incompatible fellows who are a) not totally injured, out of form, or too totally fatigued and b) who don't much get along with one another. Most of the European based players in these lineups are actually quite relieved to bow out of the tournament and get to mend their bodies when only getting a very short 3-4 week maximum club/sport/play & training break. As I stated above: It's all a big farce. And we're the dupes because we watch and spend money on the farce.

  1. M B
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 9:46 a.m.
    The two comments above were written and placed under the "Can this Be Brazil?" article. Why those two comments showed up here after clicking 'Submit Comment' I just cannot say. I apologize, as these comments above are not in concert with the analysis of the Belgian squad for the upcoming match. My apologies, but I did not place them here. However, on Belgium, yes, a far, far better team than the USA. The USA is not even remotely in the same league as this crop of Belgian talents. That said, illnesses, fatigue, injuries, the red card to Defour and the temperature factors greatly help even the playing field for the lackluster and poorly skilled US squad. The US squad features large, bulky, athletic, muscle fellows. Hint: This is a Klinsman recipe as he does not know how to teach, build, bring skill to a player's game (as was true in his own playing career). So the method of just using big guys to neutralize those opponents who are more talented is the method in play for the US. Sadly, all too often this works. But from a true soccer fan's perspective, Belgium is a far more entertaining and enjoyable group of actual talent to view. I'd love to see Belgium win 5 - 1, using the flair that they can uncork. Maybe a real embarassing scoreline will help refocus to acquiring USA talent in the MNT lineup and not just athletes.

  1. Alex G. Sicre
    commented on: June 30, 2014 at 9:41 p.m.
    Wow, too much negativity, and too much arrogance from another Euro-snob, M B. Are you Belgian by chance? You take up too much room and too much worthless crap with your ranting and raving about nothing anybody else wants to hear. Wise up.

  1. Chris Sapien
    commented on: July 1, 2014 at 12:13 a.m.
    And definitely should employ an editor.....


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