|United States players and Jurgen Klinsmann during a practice session
Salvador: The United States’ declaration of their attacking intentions may awaken the more thrill-seeking instincts of an unbeaten Belgium as they prepare for “war” in Tuesday’s last-16 pre-quarter final clash, here, at the Arena Fonte Nova.
The Belgians came through the group stage with three successive wins — against Algeria, Russia and South Korea — but failed to hit the heights expected of their exciting, star-studded squad with somewhat lukewarm performances and late shows.
However, with talents likes Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, there is time to change things around. The Belgians will certainly be a stiff test for the United States that surprised many by beating 2010 quarter finalists Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the race to qualify alongside Germany from Group G.
“We obviously want to do well for ourselves, for our country, but it’s a big step for the growth of soccer if we get past Belgium,” defender DaMarcus Beasley said.
The Americans’ mix of organisation and physical fitness has been improved further by coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s focus on quick passing that sharpened their attacking edge, and it’s that high energy mantra that could unsettle Belgium.
“Physically, they are very strong. We are preparing for a war,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots told reporters.
Meanwhile, Fifa says Belgium midfielder Steven Defour will serve only a one-match ban for his red card against South Korea in the team’s last group-stage match.
A fast start could be key to the progress of the Americans who will have noticed that Belgium took at least about 70 minutes or so to score in all three of their group matches. Precisely, they have been somewhat slow-starters in this edition, finding their rhythm only towards the latter stages of the matches.
That said, the Belgians may have stuttered slightly, but an unbeaten qualifying campaign extended to their first three World Cup games is enviable and does support their ranking as fifth favourites with bookmakers, going into the tournament.
With Thibault Courtois in goal and the dominant centre-half Vincent Kompany, the Red Devils have conceded just once in Brazil — a penalty to Algeria — and despite their ‘dark horse’ tag, appear unperturbed by a void of anticipated flair in their displays.
“What does it mean to play beautifully?” Wilmots asked. “Every game is characterised by tactics and physical fitness. What is important is the end is the result, to win the match with whatever style of play.
“I’m not there to please fans at the gallery.”
The Belgians have won the last four of their five games with the United States, including a 4-2 victory in Cleveland in May last year.
Having sealed a last-16 spot after two group games, Wilmots fielded a tinkered side in Belgium’s final tie with South Korea, meaning there will be many fresh legs for the clash versus Klinsmann’s men with the line-up expected to revert to the one that faced Russia.