The "Group of Death" has been conquered, and now the US men's national team are set to do battle with Belgium on Tuesday to keep their World Cup hopes alive. Many expected Belgium to be a dark horse in this tournament, but the U.S. have no reason to fear their European opponents.
While it is true that Belgium won all three games in their group to top the table, they have yet to find their best form. On the other hand, the U.S. improved in every match of the group stages and look to be playing their best football of the tournament at this point.
Regardless of form, Belgium still have several big stars on their team that can decide a match. So why shouldn't the U.S. be afraid?
Taking a quick look at this U.S. side, it's clear that defense has been the key. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has had America very organized, and teams have had a hard time breaking them down in the final third.
Likely, the U.S. will continue that trend of defensive strength against Belgium, but the Europeans also haven't looked their best in attack, which will play to America's favor.
Going forward, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Mousa Dembele have certainly not been at their best. For the most part, they have put in rough performances in Brazil and have yet to show the real form that was expected out of them. Granted, Mertens did score a vital goal against Algeria, but he hasn't been sharp since then.
Eden Hazard has looked strong for Belgium despite his teammates' struggles, but the team cannot solely rely on the Chelsea star. There have even been times when it looked like Hazard wanted to take over the game on his own, but he can't do it without help.
With Belgium's starting striker not looking his best and other key attacking players missing, the American defense is going to prove very tough on Tuesday. Based on how the U.S. have played thus far, it's safe to say that Belgium are in for a long night.
The Belgian defense, on the other hand, looked quite strong. They only conceded one goal throughout the group stages, and a lot of the praise will go to keeper Thibaut Courtois. But that doesn't mean the U.S. will find scoring impossible.
In this tournament, the U.S. have already stood face to face with three really tough opponents and still made it out of the group. Though it's true that America have struggled to score goals, they have done enough.
The only team the U.S. failed to score against was Germany. One could say that is forgivable because Germany are one of the strongest teams in this tournament, yet the Americans were able to create several chances in that match.
Quite a few times, the American counter-attack forced Manuel Neuer to leave his line, and late in the game the U.S. came close to drawing level.
The U.S. attack has room for improvement. A big reason for the problems has been Michael Bradley's poor form, but if he can rediscover his best, America will be handed a huge aid.
When comparing these two sides on paper, Belgium are favorites. But matches aren't played on paper.
Belgium have been able to win all of their group matches, but they have not looked their best for the most part. In fact, every goal Belgium have scored has come in or after the 70-minute mark.
The Europeans found it very hard against Algeria, South Korea and Russia. But it is safe to say this U.S. side is better than those three opponents. Belgium will be facing the toughest defense they have seen all tournament, and the U.S. are ready.
America made it through the "Group of Death", standing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and the German machine. Klinsmann's team has already silenced the critics and showed they belong here.
There should not be any fear of Belgium. They are the next opponent, but they shouldn't be the last if the U.S. players show their best.
Should America be afraid of Belgium? Can the U.S. make it even further in the World Cup? Leave your thoughts below!
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!