Belgium and the USA will meet in the final round-of-16 match of the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday, with a ticket to the quarter-finals and a date with the winner of Argentina v. Switzerland on the line.
A spot amongst the final eight would be a tremendous achievement for either team—the Yanks already surprising a number of people by surviving the Group Of Death, and Belgium appearing in their first major tournament since the 2002 World Cup.
Let's have a look at the game lines, courtesy of Oddsshark, and make some predictions ahead of this pivotal World cup clash.
|Draw (after 90)||+270|
Battle For Midfield Superiority Will Determine The Outcome
Fans of old school, smash-mouth football have to be looking forward to the match within the match on Tuesday, as Belgium's midfield triangle will be lining up across from the dynamic duo of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
Coach Marc Wilmots has kept opponents on edge by making frequent changes to his starting XI, but he'll most likely go with his strongest group on Tuesday—the duo of Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini as breakers, with Kevin de Bruyne playing in front of them as the playmaker.
Witsel, Fellaini, Beckerman and Jones all have a certain technical ability on the ball, but all four have built their game around their biggest asset—pure brute strength.
The Red Devils run their entire tactics through their triangle, using it to win the ball back in a hurry and get the ball out wide to their biggest creative threats. Few teams in world football can keep up with them on a physical level, but the Yanks certainly have the players to do so.
Jones has arguably been the team's most impressive player so far, and per Graham Ruthven, Beckerman hasn't been too far behind either:
Kyle Beckerman has been quietly excellent for the US at this World Cup. What a fantastic story.— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) June 26, 2014
If the USA can overpower Belgium's central midfielders, they'll effectively be forcing the Red Devils into changing the way they play the game. If Belgium win this battle, however, it could be a very long afternoon for the Yanks.
Confidence Is Good—Arrogance Is Not
The USA's performances at this World Cup so far have been astonishing, and the team can truly be proud of what they've achieved. Via Fox Sports' Leander Schaerlaeckens, Jurgen Klinsmann said as much after the match against Germany:
It’s a huge achievement by the team to get out of the ‘Group of Death’ and to move on. But, at the same time we already communicated to the team, ‘This is all done now. Be proud of it for a second, but don’t be content.’ This is now the key going into the knockout stage, is about understanding the dynamics of knockout games. That means do or die.
The Yanks should be confident going into their match against Belgium, who haven't been at their best so far during this World Cup. But the American confidence has been taken to a whole new level in the past few days, and it's starting to border on arrogance.
Fans and pundits have been so vocal in their belief the USA will beat Belgium, the team has almost been thrust into the role of favourites. And that's not the situation the team wants to be in. Defensive solidity and organisation is one thing—on a technical level, this Belgian team is still very much superior.
Remember, the last time these two teams met, Belgium used an experimental formation with two strikers (something they didn't have the potential for) and they completely dominated the USA team on the pitch.
This isn't the same American team—it's so much better than it was a year ago. But a little humility going into the match can only help a squad built to defend first and foremost. If the USA become too confident and forget their on-pitch identity, Belgium have the kind of talent to take advantage of that in a hurry.