The Belgians came through the group stage with three wins from
three 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 for that to change and the Europeans will be a
stiff test for a U.S. side that surprised many by beating off 2010
quarter-finalists Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal to qualify
alongside Germany in Group G.
The American's mix of organization and physical fitness has been
improved by coach Juergen Klinsmann's focus on quick passing moves
that have sharpened their attacking edge, and it is 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.
A fast start could be key to the progress of the U.S. who will have
noticed that Belgium took until at least the 70th minute to score in
all three of their group matches.
"We are going to take it to them," said Klinsmann, whose players'
families have been told to change flights home until after the World
Cup final. "We believe we have enough confidence now going into this
game to beat them. We know we have to go to our extremes to make
While the Belgians may have stuttered slightly, an unbeaten
qualifying campaign extended to their first three World Cup games is
enviable and does support their ranking as fifth favorites with
bookmakers going into the tournament.
A defense possessing Thibault Courtois in goal and dominant center
half Vincent Company 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 said.
"Every game is characterized by tactics and physical fitness. What
is important in the end is the result, to win the match with
whatever style of play."
The Belgians have won the last four of their five games with the
U.S., including a 4-2 victory in Cleveland in May last year. A
solitary win for the U.S. came in the 1930 World Cup.
[to top of second column]
Having sealed a last 16 spot after two group games, Wilmots
fielded a much changed side in Belgium's final tie with South Korea,
meaning there will be many fresh legs for the U.S. clash with the
line-up expected to revert to that which faced Russia.
Both Kompany and fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen are expected to
play despite recent injuries but Wilmots will definitely be without
the suspended Steven Defour, as well as injured duo Laurent Ciman
and Anthony Vanden Borre.
For the U.S. striker Jozy Altidore is expected to be on the bench
after resuming training following a hamstring injury but Klinsmann
is unlikely to tinker too much with his line-up.
Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Axel Witsel
are one booking away from suspension for Belgium, while the same
threat applies to Omar Gonzalez, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones
for the U.S.
The winner of the clash at Salvador's Fonte Nova arena will play
Argentina or Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
(Additional reporting by Mark Gleeson and Simon Evans, thanks
Editing by Nigel Hunt)
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