World Cup Round of 16 preview: Belgium v USA

The USA take on the might of Belgium at the Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, in the last Round of 16 clash on Wednesday, July 2, from 6am (AEST).

Head to head

Belgium first met the USA in the inaugural World Cup where the Americans won 3-0. They have only met four times since, all of them outside of the World Cup, with Belgium winning all and keeping three clean sheets in the process. Their last meeting was just over a year ago where Belgium ran out 4-2 winners.

The game

Both the USA and Belgium have plenty to play for going into this match up. The Americans are eager to put in a good performance with the huge interest in the game developing back home at stake. On the other hand, Belgium want to reach the quarter finals for the first time since 1986, when they finished in fourth place.

The game is shaping up to be a war of attrition.

Both teams have employed a pragmatic approach in the group stages. Belgium dominated the ball, happy to keep it in their own half, tiring out the opposition, and then striking late for a one goal victory on three separate occasions. The USA have employed what can easily be categorised as the exact opposite of the Belgian game plan. They have been happy to sit back against all their opponents, inviting pressure while hoping to catch the opposing defenders off guard with quick counters.

Both countries have injury problems to deal with. Belgium’s is the more serious with Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen both doubtful. Kompany could prove to be a huge loss after a stellar campaign with Manchester City led to him being widely considered among the best defenders in the world. Belgium Coach Marc Wilmots has even referred to him as his “right hand man” and claims that it will be a “totally different game” without him.

If both centre halves miss out then there are rumours that Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will be moved to centre half with attackers Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli playing in left and right back, respectively. While doubtful, if this does happen it could prove to be a huge success or a massive disaster if USA is able to break quickly and catch the inexperienced defenders out of position.

Jurgen Klinsmann has a much more welcome problem on his hands with Jozy Altidore tipped to be fit in time for the match. This could mean he comes into the striking role with Clint Dempsey dropping to attacking midfield and picking up much more defensive responsibilities. It will be interesting to see if Klinsmann veers from the team which has done so well for him against tough opposition in Group G.

Wilmots also has a big decision on his hands with all the talk in the Belgian media surrounding 19-year-old Divock Origi, who burst on to the international scene after some impressive displays off the bench and a goal to complement them. Has he done enough to take the No 9 role off the goalless Romelu Lukaku?

One interesting statistic to think about really highlights the distinct differences between the two outfits. Belgium had one of the highest possession figures in the group stage, while USA has the second lowest with an average of 39%. Read into it what you will.

The big issue

Will Vincent Kompany be fit for the game? A lot hinges on the 28-year-old’s recovery. If he plays Belgium will be free to attack knowing they have a world class leader covering them.

The game breaker

The outcome of this game comes down to the ability of the Belgians to break down the sea of white which will meet them on the field in Salvador. Eden Hazard has yet to shine in the tournament. He has completed many dribbles but few of them have been effective. The Belgian wingers and attacking midfielder, Kevin de Bruyne, will have to be on song if they want to break down a well-drilled and disciplined American eleven.

Prediction: Belgium 2 – 0 USA

The Red Devils have only conceded one goal and a USA with only 9 shots on target in the whole tournament don't look entirely threatening.