It’s game day for the United States versus Belgium in Salvador, Brazil, and while the torrential rainfall of Recife is not in the forecast, at a projected 94% humidity is, conditions should be swamp like, if the rain does hold off.
With a place in the World Cup quarterfinals on the line the Americans go against the stingy Belgians today at the Arena Fonte Nova.
While the U.S were surviving the Group of Death, Belgium ran the table in the group stage beating Algeria 2-1, before shutting out Russia and then South Korea, each by a narrow 1-0 score.
Belgium features a host of stars familiar to fans of the world’s game, starting with talented 22 year old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who beat his parent club Chelsea in the Champions League, while on loan to Atletico Madrid.
Another Chelsea man Eden Hazard is perhaps the most creative player on this young Belgian side. Hazard hasn’t lit it up so far in Brazil, maybe that is why the Belgian attack has been somewhat stagnant.
Coach Marc Wilmots has some injury concerns ahead of this match, but Belgium has the depth to overcome the absences of Thomas Vermaelen, Anthony van Boden, and suspended Steven Defour. Wilmots will have a harder time replacing center back Vincent Kompany if the Manchester City stalwart can’t make it.
The coach says Kompany is 50/50, so you can expect the captain to lead Belgium out later today.
On the U.S. injury front Jurgen Klinsmann says that injured striker Jozy Altidore will be available. How available, he can’t say.
Klinsmann has a decision to make at center back, between Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez. The more mobile Cameron was given a mental health day after his nightmare against Portugal, and Gonzalez stepped in, and stepped up against Germany.
Klinsmann will decide between the hot hand, Gonzalez, or the player he originally judged as the better fit for his defensive philosophy, which values Cameron’s speed, athleticism and passing ability over Gonzalez’s size and heading ability.
The rest of the U.S. lineup should be predictable, with Alejandro Bedoya expected to resume his wide midfield role at the expense of Brad Davis.
The earliest goal that Belgium has scored so far in Brazil came in the 70th minute of their first game, from Marouane Fellaini. Recent Round of 16 matches have seen underdogs play well early, without coming up with the goals needed to hurt their more illustrious opponents.
And while the gap between these two teams is hardly equivalent to say, the Germans and Algerians, Belgium are solid favorites.
The best way for the U.S. to attack Belgium would seem to be from wide areas. Like Germany, Belgium’s fullbacks are big men, generally regarded as center backs. Left fullback Jan Vertonghen plays both wide and centrally for Tottenham and Toby Alderweireld plays as a center back for Atletico Madrid.
U.S. fullback Fabian Johnson has gotten forward to good effect at times during this World Cup, and while DaMarcus Beasley has been more conservative, the longtime winger still has the speed to stretch a defense.
Wide midfielders Bedoya and Graham Zusi will need to pick up their offensive games as well.
Finally, what about penalty kicks? If the game gets that far, who will have the advantage? Belgium is the youngest team in the World Cup, and only defender Daniel van Buyten has played in the World Cup before(2002). Will that youth and inexperience come back to haunt Belgium?
And who will step up to the spot for the U.S. MNT? You may have heard that Landon Donovan isn’t with the team, he has been the Americans top pk man for years.
Captain Clint Dempsey is a likely choice, although Deuce hasn’t always been at his best from the charity stripe. Jozy Altidore would step up if he is on the field, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are likely suspects, as well.
Coming into the Brazil 2014 the young Belgian side were everyone’s favorite dark horse, with the U.S. expected to struggle to escape the opening round. The Americans passed that first teat. Now they will have to beat Belgium. Can the U.S. do it?
The GotSoccer pick is for a nail biting, heart racing 2-1 United States win in regular time.