USMNT: A Look at the Enemy – Belgium
Next up on the list is Belgium and OTF’s Juan Santoliva gives you a taste of what these waffles have done so far…
The Belgians came into this World Cup as dark horses: a sleek combination of youth, speed, and ferocity.
Historically, they haven’t made a name for themselves on the big stage, unable to qualify for the past two World Cups. Their best result was a fourth-place finish in 1986, after which they had three round-of-16 exits clustered around a three-and-out group stage exit in 1998.
That was then, this is now.
Belgium now has some of the biggest names on the planet in their lineup. Thibaut Courtois is world class, and helped Atletico Madrid win a La Liga title. The backline consists of Premier League stars Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, and Thomas Vermaelen. The midfield now holds creativity and muscle in Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Bruyne. Don’t forget Everton favorite Romelu Lukaku. Face it: Belgium is stacked.
The problem is these players have performed phenomenally for clubs but can’t seem to quite transfer such form to the international scene. Though they are considered “dark horses” of the tournament, they’ve honestly just been – eh (shrugs shoulders).
In the group stage, Belgium was as unimpressive as a three-win team could be. Group H was weak, consisting of Algeria, Russia, and South Korea. In each match, the Belgians just managed to squeak by with one-goal wins.
The Red Devils’ defense has looked strong, allowing just a single goal, but scoring goals wins you games.
Belgium’s attack hasn’t quite gelled, which is surprising when you look at their talent pool. Lukaku hasn’t impressed and Hazard has just been getting by in recent matches.
Coach Marc Wilmots has yet to find the right balance in his starting XI. They’ve beaten three beatable sides by only one goal each time, without great fluidity.
Or you can look at it the way Tim Howard does: “You win three games at the World Cup, you can’t be playing that badly.”
Youth can be a benefit and a liability. It’s a really young team with just one player over 29 among the usual starting lineup.
These Red Devils have an average age of 25, and just one player who’s appeared in a Euro or a World Cup, defender Daniel Van Buyten.
The players don’t have many older role models to look up to. I think the pressure from the fans to be really impressive this World Cup makes it that much more difficult. They are everyone’s dark horse pick, and we’re waiting to see them break out.
Even with such a talented team, the U.S. has to be particularly fearful of 23-year-old Eden Hazard.
Yes, he’s had very little influence in Belgium’s three wins, but that doesn’t mean he can’t just switch it on and become world class. Look what he did to Russia when he was tired of his team underperforming: he came alive and scored the winning goal.
Hazard is quick and very explosive. He’s always thinking, always looking at the next play. It’ll be a real test for Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as Hazard has the ability to be in one place, one second and then up the wing yelling for the ball the next.
Coach Wilmots believes the same, “ I think for the moment Eden wants to do more. He can do a lot for us, everyone knows that.”
Belgium is wearing thin at the back. Kompany, the anchor of the Belgium defense, has a strained groin and may possibly miss the match against the Stars and Stripes. Thomas Vermaelen has a strained leg as well, but has been participating in practice. Anthony Vanden Borre is reportedly out for the tournament with a broken fibula.
With the attack struggling to find goals, and the task may get harder now Marouane Fellaini is on the injury watch-list: he left training early on Sunday. The team’s camp says it’s a knock to the calf and they expect both him and Moussa Dembele (who is suffering a similar injury) to be ready by Tuesday.
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OTF’s Juan Santoliva will keep you updated on the latest matches, injuries and other shenanigans from the USMNT’s opponents. Follow him @jsants90.