Getting to Know Belgium, USA's Next World Cup Opponent
On Tuesday, USA will face Belgium in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Brazil.
Ahead of the tournament, various critics tipped the Red Devils as one of the dark horses to win it all. And indeed, they finished top of their group, collecting nine points in three games.
But it wasn't easy for the Belgians. Against Algeria, they had to come from behind to secure the victory, and against Russia and South Korea, the goals didn't come until late in the second half.
While they managed to qualify for the knockout stage with apparent ease, some critics have pointed out Belgium haven't performed as well as they should have.
With all this in mind, we take a look at what USA will be facing in their quarter-final match. Who, exactly, are Belgium? Who is their star player? What makes their team tick?
Manager Marc Wilmots' Tactics
Manager Marc Wilmots' tactics involve a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid formation. Because of the changing positions of the midfielders, it's sometimes difficult to translate Belgium's setup to a traditional tactical concept.
The core of the midfield consists of Zenit Saint Petersburg's Axel Witsel, who plays as the anchor, and VfL Wolfsburg's Kevin De Bruyne, who plays as an advanced playmaker. Between those two players, Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini often plays as a box-to-box midfielder.
Considering De Bruyne's advanced position and the wingers' propensity to cut inside, the most accurate description is to call it a 4-2-3-1 formation. But it's difficult to argue that Witsel and Fellaini form a duo as holding midfielders.
All in all, Belgium's formation allows their host of creative players to flourish.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium's Tactical Lynchpin
Kevin De Bruyne is the man who makes Marc Wilmots' fluid tactics work.
Most matches, De Bruyne functions as a playmaker in the position of a No. 10. Given unlimited creative freedom, he is allowed to roam from that position, for example to the left when winger Eden Hazard cuts inside to threaten the opposition's defence from a more central position.
By doing that, De Bruyne also allows the box-to-box player behind him—usually Fellaini—to bomb forward and join the attack.
Against Algeria, Wilmots attempted to utilise De Bruyne's intelligence and awareness on the right flank, allowing space in the centre for Nacer Chadli. This shows that De Bruyne is also a fluid player.
The Red Devils' Biggest Star
Ahead of the tournament, a lot was expected of Belgium's left-winger and attacking midfielder Eden Hazard.
At his club Chelsea, Hazard had a breakthrough season in the 2013/14 campaign, and it was expected he would take his good form into the World Cup.
But thus far, Hazard has disappointed. Having started in all three of Belgium's group-stage matches, he is yet to score his first World Cup goal.
During the match against Russia, however, Hazard did give a hint of his brilliance by wonderfully setting up Divock Origi's winning goal minutes before the full-time whistle.
If Hazard starts producing more of those moments, USA will have a big problem on their hands.
Possible Weak Point
In their first three matches, it became apparent Belgium are defensively solid: apart from a penalty against Algeria, they didn't concede any goals.
Nonetheless, it also seems there might be a weak point in Belgium's defensive setup.
Because of a lack of options, Wilmots has been playing Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld as full-backs. Both of these players are actually centre-backs.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld performed well enough against Algeria, Russia and South Korea, but how would they hold up against better opponents?
When looking for a way to attack Belgium, clever wing play might be key.