As I'm writing this it is less than eight hours until the USA kicks of against Belgium in the round of 16 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil! Thus far the World Cup has been outstanding! More goals, upsets, and drama than almost any other international tournament in recent memory. Hopefully, for the USA, the upsets continue and they can roll past the Belgium Red Devils into the quarter-finals to face either Argentina or Switzerland. Belgium is an extremely talented side and should test the USA, perhaps, more than any other team thus far in the tournament. In today's post I want to break down the game and tell you what I think some key areas for the USA are to achieve victory!
Firstly, I want to look at this game from a broad perspective. What is it that Belgium likes to do and what is it that the USA likes to do and how will each team hope to implement their will upon the game.
As stated, Belgium is one of the most talented teams (if not the most talented) in this years World Cup. With players like Courtois (GK), Kompany (CB), Hazard (LM), De Bryune (CAM), Mertens (RM), & Lukaku (ST) there is talent every where you look! Belgium will want to play high tempo, fast paced, soccer and try to keep the American's on the back foot. Belgium is particularly gifted with quicker, play-maker type players (Hazard, De Bryune, Mertens) that perform well in wide areas (space) where their talents can shine. Belgium will look to get these types of players in dangerous attacking spaces where they can either cut inside and take a shot or whip in dangerous crosses to their imposing striker Lukaku.
While also being a talented team, the USA's talent comes in different areas and forms than the Belgian's. While Belgium has a myriad of quick, skillful players, the USA has a very talented core in the middle of the field. The USA's strengths will shine the brightest when they are able to beat Belgium in crowded spaces by using the collective muscle that Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones will provide in the central midfield areas. Further, if these players are able to skillfully distribute the ball upon winning possession to the USA skill players (Dempsey, Bedoya, Johnson, Altidore) then the Belgians might find themselves in a load of trouble
Hazard vs Johnson
Eden Hazard is arguably Belgium's best player. He is 23 years old and has already taken the English Premier League by storm playing for Chelsae. While his best play has yet to develop in this world cup his threat remains great for the USA. Thankfully, one of the brightest spots for the USA this world cup has been the play of our right back, Fabian Johnson, who will be given the task of shutting down Belgium's main man (Hazard). Unfortunately this could mean that Johnson is less of an attacking option for the USA, however, if he is able to shut down Hazard then the tradeoff favors the USA more than Belgium.
Lukaku vs USA Center Backs
Whether Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez starts along side Beasler at Center Back (CB) they will all have their hands full keeping track of Belgium's main striker Lukaku. Lukaku is a physical specimen who is big, fast, and is a very potent aerial threat! The USA CBs will have to be on the constant watch out for Lukaku's movements, especially when crosses are coming in.
Dempsey vs Belgian Defense
This is an interesting one because reports are out that Jozy Altidore (USA's main striker) will be available for this match! That being said, does Klinsman start Altidore and risk having to waste a substitution on him if he aggravates his injury in the first half. Hopefullly Altidore is much further along than we expect and will be fit to play the whole game. This would put a lot of pressure on the Belgian back four!
However, if Altidore is not fully fit and will only be able to make an appearance as a late-game substitute then that will put a lot of pressure on Dempsey to be affective as the USA's main striker (as he's had to do against Portugal and Germany). If Dempsey has to play alone up top for the USA then is is imperative that he gets support from the likes of Bradley and Bedoya/Zusi/Davis (whoever is playing as RM & LM). If Dempsey gets no support then it will be easy for the Belgian defense to shut him down and allow their outside backs to push up in support of the Belgian attack.
RB: Johnson CB: Gonzalez CB: Beasler LB: Beasly
CDM: Beckerman CDM: Jones
RM: Bedoya LM: Zusi
If Altidore does start then I believe that Dempsy will drop back into Bradley's spot, Bradley will move back to Jones' spot, Jones will move to LM and Zusi will not start!
RB: Alserweirld CB: Van Buyten CB: Kompany LB: Vertonghen
CDM: Witsel CDM: Dembele
RM: Mertens LM: Hazard
CAM: De Bruyne
I'm going to stick with my prediction that I made in my "Round of 16 Predictions" post from Saturday and say that the USA win 2-1