We are here! The Round of 16, where you win or you go home. So far, the US has not been able to progress beyond this stage, but the matchup is favorable and the US has been playing well enough to make a statement. We are coming up against a Belgium side that has been touted as the dark horse of the tournament. They are talented but have yet to really shinem even though they won all three group games. I covered the USMNT in an earlier post, so let’s see what the Belgian side brings.
Belgium – The Red Devils
Coach – Marc Wilmots. The former Belgian footballer and all-time leading scorer for the national team has been with the Belgian program since 2009. He has built a solid team of players right up through the middle of the field. His coaching career is rather short, with only 2 other teams on the list, but his style is working currently and the team is responding.
Tournament history – Finished in 4th place in 1986. Did not qualify for the last 2 World Cups.
FIFA Ranking – #11
The Belgian team is on everyone’s watch list right now. They have a star at the three key positions in the field: Thibaut Courtois (goaltender), Vincent Kompany (central defense), and Eden Hazard (attacking midfield). Surrounding that core unit are talented players that play across the top leagues in Europe. This squad has been called the “new golden generation” and at one point was ranked as high as 5th in the FIFA rankings. The tournament so far, however, has not been a showcase of their talents. They have been very slow in their play and have allowed teams to get behind their defenders. All of their goals have come after the 70th minute and they have been outplayed in the first half of all three games. Having said that, they have yet to lose at the tournament.
This run by the US team has been fantastic. They have played every game at a high level and created chances for themselves in every match. The defense has been better that I expected, but the mid-field has been worse. This game, I think we may feel the pinch of an under-performing midfield. The Belgian team can spread wide and will run at the defense. Without the US midfield supporting the defense, holding the ball, and creating space over the top, the Belgium team will have too much free reign to play the style that suits them. Vincent Kompany is listed as doubtful for the game, so there may be a gap in the middle of the defense that can be exploited by Clint Dempsey. If the US can control the first half and Belgium continues the pattern of being slow at the start, there is a good chance for the US to get a lead and hold it. The second half can present an issue, as the Belgium coach has had a knack for introducing substitutions that energize the team and an energetic US first half will lead to tired legs on the field. Having said all that, I believe that we will win.