One of the most eagerly anticipated last-16 clashes is the last one to get underway, as Belgium take on the USA in Salvador. Our experts, Belgian football authority John Chapman and ex-US international turned broadcaster Janusz Michallik, run the rule over both sides ahead of what should be a cracker.
John Chapman on Belgium: My feeling is that the team almost picks itself with Marc Wilmots playing his most attacking players. With Axel Witsel in front of the back four, that means a midfield four of Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini and Eden Hazard.I think Divock Origi will get the nod to make his first start in a World Cup match. Vincent Kompany is the only doubt, with Nic Lombaerts standing by. I think Kompany will play.
Janusz Michallik on the USA: With a few concerns in the first two matches, the USA concluded the group stage virtually injury-free. The question remains whether Omar Gonzalez will retain his centre-back role after filling in for Geoff Cameron after a good performance against Germany, with the rest of the back line unchanged. Brad Davis languished in place of Alejandro Bedoya, who I anticipate will make his return to the starting lineup. The USA struggled to threaten Manuel Neuer’s goal, so if Jozy Altidore is still deemed unavailable, Klinsmann should also dispel his doubts and opt for Chris Wondolowski or Aron Johannsson to start alongside Clint Dempsey.
John Chapman: Belgium have won all their games but have been widely criticised for not living up to their reputation as the ‘golden generation’. That’s not their fault as the team is inexperienced in international football. The USA are likely to defend in numbers and rely on counter attacks which could lead to stalemate. Belgium need to get the ball out to the wings and use Mertens and Hazard.
Janusz Michallik: As most feared, the nearly 9,000 miles of air travel finally caught up to the USA in a rainy Recife against Germany. The Americans appeared leggy while the Germans dominated possession for much of the game. The round of 16 match could be a refresher for the USA, as they’ve put the ‘Group of Death’ behind them and can now focus solely on Belgium. The midfield trio of Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will have to be in top form against Mousa Dembele/Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel and Kevin de Bruyne. In addition, keep an eye out for Fabian Johnson’s matchup with Eden Hazard. Johnson must be wary of his darting runs and trickery, yet should Hazard fail to track his runners, Johnson and his midfield counterpart can exploit this and have a run at Jan Vertonghen, who is not a natural left back. This is where DeAndre Yedlin’s speed could provide a spark to the USA attack late on.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Belgium boss Marc Wilmots: "The knock-out stage is a new competition and the group is hungry and ready to give their all to reach the quarter-finals."
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann: "We have enough confidence now going into this game – a very special one, a knockout game – to say we are able to beat them. But we all know we have to go to our extreme and get 100 per cent in each player to make this happen. We have absolutely no fear at all. We feel like we are in a position now to challenge (them). We believe we have built a foundation in our team that we are able to beat them."
On Altidore: "We don't know how much he can play... but he's available."
John Chapman: Axel Witsel missed the game with South Korea to avoid him possibly missing this game due to an accumulation of yellow cards. He’s important to the way the team plays as he rarely misplaces a pass and he tidies up in front of the back four. Witsel has said he’s not frustrated in playing such a ‘defensive’ role but he is certainly being loyal to Wilmots when he says that.
Janusz Michallik: Tim Howard. It’s easy to point to an integral component of your midfield or strike force in these cases, but you can’t overlook Howard in a game like this. Barring the improbable tip-over-the-bar save from Eder’s effort against Portugal, he hasn’t been called upon to make remarkable saves as often as we thought in this tournament, but has nonetheless done what has been asked of him. He is the backbone of this team and the success of this team begins with him. For the USA to win this game, he will once again have to be excellent.
John Chapman: I’m going for a low-scoring draw, take a draw and under 2.5 goals at 4.00. Mertens is my man to get on the score sheet at 3.90.
Janusz Michallik: I have been backing Michael Bradley to score by this time in the tournament and he has not come good yet. In fact, he has been struggling by his high standards. Very good players show up in games like these and it may be wise to back him again to score first at 21.00. If you want to take a chance on a long shot, you may want to have a look at Omar Gonzalez, as he is very good on set-pieces and could easily score any time at 26.00. He’s not getting credit for his set-piece prowess, looking at the odds that are given.
John Chapman: Belgium 1 USA 1 at 6.75, Belgium to win on penalties at 13.00.
Janusz Michallik: This is the part that you may want to forgive me for. I will fly the flag high: 1-0 United States in regulation time at 10.50.
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