After Jurgen Klinsmann managed to negotiate the USA team through the 2014 World Cup Group of Death, the pressure is off him and his team as they gear up for their Round of 16 clash with Belgium.
But there is a growing sense that this American team has it in them to make a prolonged run in this tournament and that their Round of 16 opponents could well be there for the taking after some unconvincing performances in the group stages. Teams can grow into competitions though, and despite the disjointed nature of their showings so far, Belgium finished the group stages with three wins from three games.
Admittedly, the calibre of opposition wasn’t quite as high as that faced by the USA, but they were teams that play in a stylistically similar way to Klinsmann’s team. So in that sense, Marc Wilmots' side should be well prepared for the threats posed by the United States.
We’re set for a mesmerizing contest between these two sides and here’s all the information you need on where to catch the game live via stream. Let’s also run the rule over both teams and predict who will progress to the quarter-final stages of this enthralling World Cup.
The United States will be looking to extend their remarkable run in this World Cup by progressing to the quarter-finals, and they’ll fancy their chances against a Belgium team that have failed to catch fire in this tournament so far. Especially when you consider Klinsmann’s team are exactly the kind of opponent that Belgium have toiled against, too.
The United States are compact, hard-working and exceptionally difficult to beat, and so far in this World Cup, Belgium have rarely showcased the guile required to break down these kinds of opponents. Up to now, Wilmots has had to utilise his substitutes options astutely, with Marouane Fellaini and Divock Origi coming into the game late on and making positive impressions.
So it’ll be intriguing to see what personnel Wilmots goes with in this one, but Belgium will need much more from their key creative talents like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne if they’re to break down their last-16 opponents.
At the back they look pretty solid, though. In Vincent Kompany the Red Devils have one of the world’s premier central defenders, while Thibaut Courtois is arguably the most in-form goalkeeper at the tournament after his fine domestic season with Atletico Madrid. Belgium have a pretty formidable record when the young stopper starts, as noted here by ESPN Stats & Info:
Klinsmann’s team struggled for long spells against Germany in their final group game; completely swamped in central areas and unable to inject any impetus into their play. Clearly wary of the strength of the German midfield, they weren’t quite as aggressive in their pressing, preferring to sit deep and restrict spaces in behind and between the lines.
But they’ll feel a lot more confident of pressing a little higher up against this Belgian midfield, for it has looked a little imbalanced so far.
Jozy Altidore will be back for this one too, and it’ll be interesting to see if Klinsmann throws him straight back into the starting XI for this clash or chooses to utilise his physicality from the bench against tired Belgian legs. You suspect he’ll keep the powerful front man in reserve and he could offer the United States a refreshing offensive threat late in the game.
Bleacher Report’s Will Tidey thinks this one could go beyond 90 minutes and subsequently, Altidore’s influence would be better utilised late in the match:
Belgium will have a lot more of the ball in this one, but that won’t necessarily suit Wilmots and his team, who are at their best when counter-attacking. With this in mind, the United States must do their utmost to starve Hazard of possession, and if they can cut off the passing angles into the Chelsea man, the Red Devils could become increasingly agitated and one-dimensional in their play.
This looks set to be a very physical, tight contest and subsequently, the players coming off the bench are going to be vital for both sides. Wilmots has already shown exactly how well he can use substitutes and in the likes of Origi, Dries Mertens and Nacer Chadli, he has dynamic, direct players that could get at the United States back four if they do start to tire.
The States must be patient, though. If the game is level with ten minutes remaining, then the pressure will be on Belgium to push forward in search of a winner and that’s when the Klinsmann’s side could get their best chances.
Klinsmann will have drilled that into his players, and if the United States can preserve parity as the match ticks into the latter stages—which I think they will—Belgium will grow frustrated and the chances to hit them on the break will emerge. That’s why I’m backing a narrow victory for the United States.
Prediction: United States 1-0 Belgium