This is where the fun starts for the United States. After negotiating their way through the Group of Death with some wonderful performances, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men will take on Belgium in the last-16 knowing there is very little pressure on them whatsoever. Even if the USA were to depart at this particular stage of the tournament, this team has captured the imagination of the nation and already exceeded expectations.
But seeing as they’re in the hat, why not dream a little? After all, Belgium haven’t quite got going in this tournament, that despite their three wins in their three group games. They’ve been well short of the enterprising, attacking outfit that we’ve saw in World Cup qualifiers, resembling a rigid, cohesive outfit instead.
Marc Wilmots’ team do have plenty of qualities though, and if Belgium are set to grow into this World Cup during the knockout stages, the United States will need to be at their very best if they’re to progress at the expense of the Red Devils.
Here’s a full run down of the side that stand between the United States and the quarter-finals, and how Klinsmann might go about getting the better of them:
Strong Goalkeeper and Central Defense, Can Be Exposed At Full-Back
In Thibaut Courtois, Belgium have arguably the outstanding goalkeeper in the tournament, although he’s yet to be properly tested in any of the Red Devils’ three games to date. He has a maturity that belies his years, a commanding aura and a stunning array of shot-stopping abilities. The United States forwards will have to be at their most clinical to find a way past him.
The fitness of skipper Vincent Kompany remains something of a concern for Wilmots ahead of this one, but if the Manchester City man does feature, he’s a hugely commanding and unshakeably influential figure at the back.
There are concerns about the rest of the defense though, most notably in the full-back positions. Typically, Wilmots will use Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at right and left-back respectively, despite both players being more suited to central defensive berths. With neither player hugely comfortable getting forward on the overlap, it can leave the wide forwards a little isolated and Belgium prone to frustration against deep sitting defences.
They can also be gotten, too. Algeria exposed this in the early stages of Belgium’s opening game with some pacey forays down the flanks, and if the United States can attack the makeshift full-backs with the same raw impetus, then Klinsmann’s side will get some joy.
Struggling For Balance In Midfield
Wilmots started the first game with a midfield three of Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele and Kevin De Bruyne. Throughout the game, that triumvirate failed to establish any kind of tempo or incisiveness, making the Red Devils look a little blunt in the middle of the park. In the end, they introduced Marouane Fellaini, went a little more direct and it ultimately paid off.
In truth, it’s an area in which Belgium have failed to find rhythm throughout the tournament. Witsel lhas been good in the holding role, and Fellaini added a little more steel to that position against Russia, but again, neither have the vision to cause real problems for opposition defenders with slick, sharp passing.