Key Battles That Will Shape USA's World Cup Clash with Belgium

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Jun 26, 2014; Recife, BRAZIL; USA midfielder Kyle Beckerman against Germany during the 2014 World Cup at Arena Pernambuco. Germany defeated USA 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The eighth and final round-of-16 match to be played at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil features two intriguing sides, the United States and Belgium, who both possess world-class players.

Both sides have star playmakers and—coincidentallystars out due to injury, which could affect how the teams play.

Below is a look at the biggest matchups to watch in the battle between the Group H winners and runners-up in the "Group of Death."


Kevin De Bruyne vs. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman

The man who makes the Belgian attack tick is Kevin De Bruyneone of many players who could never get a chance at Chelsea.

The Wolfsburg midfielder plays in the No. 10 role for the Red Devils, which means he will be facing the brick wall of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman on Tuesday.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 22:  Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium controls the ball as Denis Glushakov of Russia gives chase during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group H match between Belgium and Russia at Maracana on June 22, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jones and Beckerman have been terrific in the defensive part of the midfield for the Yanks thanks to their strong tackling ability, which helps them get under the skin of opponents on occasion.

If the defensive wall in front of the back four can stop De Bruyne in his tracks early, the 23-year-old could become frustrated and end up as an ineffective cog in the Belgian attacking machine.


American Forwards vs. Belgian Center-Backs

The biggest battle on the pitch Tuesday will come between the American forwards and Belgian center-backs, but right now, we don't know who is going to start in those positions.

Whomever starts for Belgium, they will be tough to pass—as stated by Simon Hart of the London Evening Standard:

Even if Vincent Kompany fails the late fitness test he was due to undergo this morning, coach Wilmots has the consolation of knowing that centre-backs Daniel van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts shone in his absence against South Korea.

Jozy Altidore was hurt in the first match of the tournament against Ghana, but according to this tweet from U.S. Soccer, he is ready to go: 

On the other side of the ball, Kristof Terreur of Het Laatste Nieuws suggests Vincent Kompany's status for the game in Salvador is not looking bright:

And according to Steven Goff of The Washington Post, Belgium boss Marc Wilmots confirmed Thomas Vermaelen will be out for the match:

If all of the banged-up players do not feature, we could be looking at Clint Dempsey, with a possible cameo from Chris Wondolowski or Aron Johannsson, against Daniel Van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts.

That matchup would produce less physical play than an Altidore-Kompany showdown, which means Dempsey would have to search through the channels in defenselike he did in the first half against Portugalto create chances.


Fabian Johnson vs. Jan Vertonghen

Possibly the most intriguing battle of them all comes on the right flank, where Fabian Johnson will look to get forward as much as possible to challenge Jan Vertonghen.

Johnson has proved over the last month that he is the most dangerous threat out of the back in attack for the Yanks, and he will be licking his chops in the matchup against the Tottenham player.

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Fabian Johnson of the United States controls the ball against Jonathan Mensah of Ghana during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Vertonghen is a center-back by trade, but he has played left-back in abundanceincluding during the 2012-13 English Premier League season, when he linked up well with Gareth Bale in plenty of matches.

Johnson will have to be aware of that if Vertonghen moves forward, but the agility of the German-American should contain the threat.

As for when Johnson attacks, Vertonghen will be on the back foot at least a few times during the match, which could lead to chances created from the right wing for Jurgen Klinsmann's side.


Eden Hazard vs. the Entire American Back Four

Eden Hazard is a player who is capable of popping up at any time and delivering a knockout punch, which is why all four players in the American back line must be aware of his presence for the entire 90 minutes.

The Americans did a splendid job of covering Cristiano Ronaldo in Manaus, but they did let him get free in the final minute of the match to deliver a stellar cross to the head of Silvestre Varela.

In his two starts against Algeria and Russia, Hazard started on the left side of the 4-2-3-1 formation trotted out by Wilmots, but he is given license to roam around the midfield to kick-start the Belgian attack at any time.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 22: Eden Hazard of Belgium controls the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group H match between Belgium and Russia at Maracana on June 22, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

With that in mind, the center-back pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez or Geoff Cameron must be aware of his place on the pitchespecially if Johnson is caught in a forward move and Hazard tries to exploit the open left flank.

If Hazard can be kept at bay for the entire match, the Americans should give themselves a good chance to advance to their first quarterfinal since 2002.


Follow Joe on Twitter @JTansey90.