In advance of the US-Belgium game tomorrow, almost everyone has an opinion on the game and both teams from a Stars and Stripes perspective. Very few have been able to get the Belgian perspective, so here’s an interview about the game tomorrow with Belgian blogger and writer Chris Mayer — better known as the Belgian Waffle.
Matt Lichtenstadter (ML): Why have Belgium been such slow starters at the World Cup?
Chris Mayer (CM): I wouldn’t necessarily say they’ve been slow starters, just maybe in comparison to what people expected from looking at the squad on paper given their quality. Only Daniel van Buyten had any World Cup experience prior to the tournament and though a lot of the squad have grown through the ranks together, I think it’s expected that they take their time to find their rhythm. The fact they’ve managed to secure three wins without really getting into gear should worry the rest of the competition.
ML: With the injuries to Kompany, Vermaelen and Vanden Borre, what’s Belgium’s best back line?
CM: The number of injuries to the defense has been concerning especially since there aren’t any natural full-backs left now with Vanden Borre out for the tournament. The best option would be Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen. If Kompany and Vermaelen aren’t fit, Nicolas Lombaerts could be given the nod.
ML: Why has Romelu Lukaku struggled so mightily so far?
CM: It’s been a bit of shock. Christian Benteke was Wilmots’ preferred man in qualifying for the way he brought others into play. Lukaku just doesn’t have that relationship yet and is running out of time to find it especially since Divock Origi has made great cameos in each game. However, I think most of it is down to Lukaku’s decision making; he’s not running onto the end of passes nearly quickly enough in my opinion, nor is his positioning great. It’s all very disjointed.
ML: What US players or tactical decisions that Jurgen Klinsmann may make frighten you the most?
CM: I think the fact that Klinsmann has been very adaptable during games should worry Wilmots. He’s made crucial changes in each of the group games in order to get something out of the game. While this didn’t work versus Germany, it did in the other two games. Other things Belgium might want to think about, at least from my perspective as someone who’s seen USA at this tournament, include Fabian Johnson getting forward and running at Belgium’s full-backs and also Aron Johannsson running at Van Buyten if he gets the chance from the bench. Van Buyten is not the quickest of centre-backs.
ML: Belgium beat the US handily 4-2 last May in Cleveland. Do you put any stock in that result or have the teams changed too much from then to now to use that game as a benchmark?
CM: Not too much, no. I’d put more stock in the behind-closed-doors game the two teams [were supposed to have] in their warm-up for the World Cup. It was a very odd scenario since the closed-door game was cancelled.
I think the US have improved a lot since that game while Belgium have stayed at roughly a similar level, maybe more savvy than they once were. Wilmots was quite experimental in that 4-2 game (using both Benteke and Lukaku at one point) but I don’t expect many surprises this time round with more riding on it.
ML: How will Wilmots try to free up players like Hazard, De Bruyne and Mertens tactically?
CM: He’s found it difficult to free up all three. Hazard often goes missing in games with so many creative talents surrounding him. Mertens has been used more as an impact sub until his performance against Algeria gave him a run. De Bruyne is the real heartbeat of this side, and he can play in a midfield trio or on the right. His versatility is usually the key as to how well Belgium will do.
ML: What’s the best way to beat this Belgium team?
CM: Pace, width and lots of it. The spine of the team, assuming it’s at its strongest, is physical and strong. There are no recognized full-backs so targeting wide areas is the way to go. As a unit, the defense has a great understanding, but is susceptible to quick counter-attacking. I’d imagine Belgium pose a similar threat to Germany.
ML: What’s your prediction?
CM: I can see this going either way, but I can’t go against Belgium. They’ll edge it 2-1. A result either way wouldn’t surprise me.
ML: Thanks to Chris for doing this. You can find him on Twitter @TheBelgianWffle, but be nice to him tomorrow if you can during the game.