Just a day after the round-of-16 matchup between the United States and Belgium was set, one key storyline is beginning to develop out of both camps.
Both sides have key players suffering from the injury bug at the moment, and it just so happens that the two players would be going up against each other if healthy.
Ever since the first group game, the Yanks have been hoping Jozy Altidore would be healthy enough to participate later on in the World Cup, and based on the comments of manager Jurgen Klinsmann Friday, that could happen.
Klinsmann on Altidore's chances of playing vs #BEL: "We are very optimistic. Every day is a big step forward for him."— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 27, 2014
On the other side of the ball, Vincent Kompany was in the news Friday because of an injury that could put him out of the clash in Salvador.
Belgium (backup) right back Vanden Borre out for rest of World Cup with a bone fracture. Kompany has muscle fatigue in stomach and groin.— Leandinho (@LeanderOnFOX) June 27, 2014
In an ideal world, seeing Altidore and Kompany battle for possession on the pitch would be a fun sight to take in, but now that both players are not 100 percent fit, it could affect the play of both sides.
Belgium has more depth at center-back than the Americans do at forward, but Kompany is one of the best in the world, which means there could be openings for the American attack Tuesday.
Interesting news to hear that Belgium captain Kompany may not be fit for game v. USMNT. Would be a huge break for US; Kompany is stout.— Sam Borden (@SamBorden) June 27, 2014
Veteran Daniel Van Buyten will employ one of the center-back positions for sure in the round-of-16 match, but who mans the post alongside him is still up in the air.
If the sturdy, physical Kompany is out of the lineup, the Red Devils would use either Nicolas Lombaerts, as they did against South Korea, or Jan Vertonghen, who has started at left-back on two occasions in Brazil. Thomas Vermaelen may be another option at center-back, but he is also sidelined by an injury at the moment.
Thomas Vermaelen, by the way, has a hamstring injury of some sort and is a question mark v. the USA as well. Still plenty of good defenders.— Leandinho (@LeanderOnFOX) June 27, 2014
If the injury situations of Kompany and Vermaelen linger into Tuesday, the pairing of Van Buyten and Lombaerts will most likely start. Those two center-backs are reliable ones, but they can also be exploited by the American forwards, even if Altidore doesn't start.
With Altidore presumably out, Clint Dempsey will be handed the responsibilities of the forward position, if Klinsmann sets his lineup similar to the last two games against Portugal and Germany.
Against Portugal, Dempsey was able to find holes in the defense, thanks to precise passing from his midfielders, and some cunning runs, but that began to dry up once the Portuguese brought on William Carvalho in place of Andre Almeida.
Clogging the midfield helped Portugal shut down Dempsey, and ineffective service neutralized him against Germany.
With plenty of members of the American attack looking to make a point in this knockout-round clash, expect Dempsey to work harder than he has in the past few games to make sure the Americans do create chances.
One thing the Americans could look to take advantage of is the yellow-card vulnerability of Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld on the wings. Both players are playing on a yellow, which means if they were to earn another caution, they would miss a potential quarterfinal game against either Argentina or Switzerland.
With Vertonghen likely to remain at left-back, regardless of who is employed at center-back, Fabian Johnson could be given specific instructions to relentlessly attack the Tottenham defender.
If Vertonghen struggles with Johnson's speed, it would cause one of the center-backs to drift out and allow some pockets of space in the middle for Dempsey and others.
If that were to happen, a player such as the 36-year-old Van Buyten may not have the recovery speed that Kompany has, and a goal could be put past Thibaut Courtois because of that.
The other, more dangerous, scenario for the United States up front is the presence of Altidore, who, even at 75 or 80 percent, brings a different dimension to the American front line.
Not only would Altidore bring his holdup play to the attack, but he would also provide the Yanks with an extra aerial threat on set pieces, which may be a slight weakness of Belgium if Kompany is out.
Even without Kompany in the fold, Belgium would be capable of fending off the challenge from Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Dempsey on set pieces, but adding Altidore to that mix would give the Belgians an extra player to worry about, which could open up space for an unlikely player to score.
While it is still going to take a few days to sort out both sides' injury situations, there is no doubt that Klinsmann would be under a little pressure to insert Altidore if Kompany is out to put the Belgian defense on edge in an already tense match.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.