“Just having him with us tomorrow is huge. But as for how many minutes, we’ll see that during the game.” – US Coach Klinsmann on the return of Jozy Altidore.
- Kickoff: 4:00 PM EST • ESPN
- Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
History has not been kind to the US in battles with Belgium. The two have clashed a total of five times as friendlies, and Belgium has been the victor four times–outscoring the US a total of eight to five. Three of those goals came when the US defeated Belgium in the 1930 World Cup, which, oddly enough, was the last and only time the US made it to the semi-finals.
The big news on the lips of every US supporter is Jozy. Yesterday afternoon US Soccer said that striker Jozy Altidore had been declared fit to play and would be available for selection in today’s game. Jozy came into the World Cup with the job of scoring goals but hurt his hamstring in the first game of group play and has been on the sidelines since. What role he’ll play remains to be seen. Unsurprisingly coach Klinsmann give zero insight into that role, “The medical staff has been working with Jozy and they have done a tremendous job, day and night. Just having him with us tomorrow is huge. But as for how many minutes, we’ll see that during the game.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard has had a great tournament so far, and he’ll need to keep it up for this game as well. One of Belgium’s offensive threats is Lukaku who just happens to be a teammate of Howard’s at Everton, so that definitely will be a matchup to keep an eye on throughout the game.
Last game I said that the Germans had the best nickname, but I had forgotten that Belgium are the Red Devils. My first thought of Belgium is waffle not Lord of Hell, but what everyone should be worrying about are three main players. There is Thibaut Courtois an excellent goal keeper–which between him and Howard could make this a low scoring affair. A big question mark is whether central defender and team captain Vincent Kompany is healthy enough to play. Lastly consider Eden Hazard: just like the Duke boys of Hazard county, you can expect to see him flying up and down the flanks and stretching the US defense.
The Belgians coasted through their group with three wins, although it was a much easier group, facing Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.
THE X FACTORS
The Belgians come into this game with a slew of injuries. As late as yesterday the Belgium coach said that Kompany was questionable. Also on the walking wounded list are Thomas Vermaelen, a defender who plays for Arsenal, with a strained hamstring, another defender Laurent Ciman, and finally there’s right fullback Anthony Vanden Borre who is definitely out with a broken fibula.
It’s extremely odd to be saying this, but the US comes into this match with more World Cup experience. In most cases it’s the US that is expected to be overwhelmed by the moment, but the tables are reversed for this matchup. The core leadership of the US team, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard have been to the knockout stage before and know the pressure. The Belgians don’t have that luxury.
US head coach made waves criticizing the selection of an Algerian referee for the match and his reasoning has left many scratching their heads.
“Is it a good feeling? No,” Klinsmann said. “Because he’s coming from the same group as Belgium and Algeria, which deserves a great compliment for reaching the next round. He’s able to speak French with their players on the field, not with us. And it’s the country we beat in the last second in the last World Cup.
“I know. I understand FIFA,” Klinsmann said. “I know it’s difficult to choose referees for the right games. It’s always kind of tricky. But it is what it is. We’ll give absolutely the benefit of the doubt and hope everything goes well.”