U.S.A. vs. Belgium
2014 FIFA World Cup, Round of 16
Tuesday, July 1; 1 pm PT; Fonte Nova; Salvador, Brazil
TV/Radio: ESPN, WatchESPN, Univision
After pulling off what was nearly unthinkable in surviving the Group of Death, the U.S. National Team moves on to the next stage in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in the Round of 16 against Belgium on Tuesday.
And while the accomplishment of getting through the Group Stage with a 1-1-1 record is certainly a worthy achievement, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to be sure that his team doesn’t spend too much time celebrating, and lose the focus on the next task at hand in facing the 11th-ranked team in the world.
“It’s a huge achievement by the team to get out of the Group of Death and to move on. But at the same time, this is all gone now. Be proud of it for a second, but don’t be content,” Klinsmann said in a press conference. “The key to the knockout stage is understanding the dynamic of knockout games. It’s do or die.”
That mentality has permeated the squad as it aims to make its first appearance in the quarterfinals since ousting Mexico in the Round of 16 in 2002 before falling to Germany.
“Everything’s fresh again. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the group stages, it’s what you’re going to do on that day,” said U.S. captain and Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey to media in Brazil. “I think there’s more pressure to that game because you either stay or you go home. You want to keep staying. You want to keep fighting for the opportunity to be in this tournament as long as possible to go as far as you can go. At the same time, it’s that balance of managing that game in terms of trying to go for the win but at the same time making sure you stay in it as well."
In Belgium, the U.S. has a difficult foe, though an inexperienced one. This is Belgium’s first World Cup appearance since 2002, yet the “Red Devils” swept their way to the Round of 16 with talented players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Keving De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.
Like the U.S. has in the last two matches, Belgium plays out of a 4-5-1 formation, a tactic that worked well out of the Group Stage. Their tournament opened with a 2-1 win over Algeria, who advanced in second place in the group, followed by a pair of 1-0 wins over Russia and South Korea.
“They’re another top team with a lot of quality players on their side,” said Dempsey, who represents Sounders FC at the World Cup along with defender DeAndre Yedlin. “In the knockout stage, anybody can go through if you bring it on that day. We’ll do everything that we can and make sure that we put in the work that we need to and hopefully play to the best of our ability, and if we do that, I think we’ll get a result.”
The U.S. has talent of its own, too, and may see the return of forward Jozy Altidore after he suffered a hamstring strain in the first match against Ghana. Klinsmann is optimistic that Altidore will play a role against Belgium, which could be even more valuable with Belgium likely missing defenders Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Anthony Vanden Borre to injury, as well as midfielder Steven Defour after he picked up a red card in the Group Stage finale.
For the U.S. the Group Stage accomplished quite a bit. In the first match, the Americans exorcised World Cup demons against Ghana. Against Portugal, they were moments from victory over one of the top teams in the world before a last-gasp goal equalized. In the final match, they played toe-to-toe with another top opponent in Germany before ultimately falling 1-0.
Those three matches created a further belief within the locker room and confidence that the U.S. can advance.
“We have absolutely no fear at all. We feel that we are in a position to challenge it,” Klinsmann said. “We believe we have built the foundation in our team to be able to beat them. We are looking forward to it.”