The US national team come into their game against Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday afternoon as underdogs. This is a familiar position for the USMNT and one they should not be afraid of. After all, few people outside of the United States were expecting them to make it out of the Group of Death. On the other side, Belgium will be looking to make it past the Round of 16 for only the second time in their history.
STYLE VS. SUBSTANCE: Yes, the US advanced to the Round of 16 in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. But some people would argue they did so in a visually displeasing manner. The US were the second worst team during the group stage in terms of possession and had their worst game ever in terms of that statistic in their game against Germany. They will need to hold onto the ball more efficiently if they hope to get past the Belgians.
UNLOCKING BRADLEY: Before the tournament, if you had told a US fan that Michael Bradley would not be the best player on the team in any of three games, they probably would have told you that the US would not get out of the group. Having achieved that initial goal, Jurgen Klinsmann will be looking to put Bradley in positions where he can be the best player on the field. Will he allow Bradley to play next to Kyle Beckerman in a position in which he is more comfortable, or will he continue to play him as a No. 10?
HAMPERED KOMPANY: We thought Marc Wilmots made wholesale changes to his starting lineup against South Korea simply because his team had already advanced and some of his stars could use the rest. As it turns out, there may have been a more practical reason for the changes. Captain and star defender Vincent Kompany has a groin strain that has left him as doubtful for the game while Thomas Vermaelen is nursing a hamstring strain that has left him doubtful for the game too. If neither are able to go look for Martin Van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts to pair up in the center of defense as they did against South Korea.
HAZARD-OUS PLAY Outside of one moment of brilliance against Russia, Eden Hazard has not lived up to expectations in this World Cup. The 23-year-old had been coming off a season in which he was named the PFA Young Player of the Year in the Premier League and was expected to be one of the top players on the world stage. If he is finally able to get back in form on Tuesday, it could spell trouble for the US.
GAMBLING MAN: Belgium Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo wasted little time in challengiing his counterpart in the US, almost immediately offering some Belgian beers if his country’s team fails to beat the US on Tuesday. No word on what Barack Obama will be offering in return.
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Jermaine Jones, midfielder, US – The German-American was the best US player in the group stage. He will need to be on top of his game against the Belgians, helping on the wing as well as up the gut against Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
- Kevin de Bruyne, midfielder, Belgium – He was not a regular starter for Wolfsburg in 2013-14, but when he did get on the field, it was electric. He has continued that strong form in the World Cup so far.