Meet Belgium, the USMNT's Tall Tuesday Order
The Group of Death is no more. The USMNT conquered all - well, they conquered Portugal and Ghana, at least. But the euphoria has now worn off, and there is now a large task at hand for America's soccer team. How do they beat the Belgians?
Scientia Potentia Est: Knowledge is power. So let’s learn a bit about our opponents on Tuesday.
Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate a year. But do you know what else they produce? Quality soccer players. Belgium is undergoing a ‘golden generation’, and rising as high as fifth in the FIFA World Rankings in 2013, this was their first appearance at a major tournament since 2002. They have serious quality in all areas of the pitch. A total of 11 members of the 23 play in the Premier League’s top-seven teams. That number increases to 12 if you include phenom goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is owned by Chelsea but played for Atletico Madrid. You might know him from leading his team to a Champions League Final recently.
With a population of roughly 10.5 million people in a land mass of almost 12,000 miles, Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Like the country itself, their midfield, too, is quite populated. With a strong pairing of Marouane Fellaini (otherwise known as the afro you see elbowing every other player in the face when jumping for a header) and Axel Witsel protecting the back four, creative players are able to really shine. Players like Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne can focus on offense knowing the back door won’t be left open when they venture forward. Add in Moussa Dembele and his ability to hold onto the ball and glide past defenders, and this midfield has every quality you want in a team. I didn’t even mention Dries Mertens, which speaks to the depth they also possess. Density personified.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet, and is still used today to determine a person’s ideal weight. If you're looking to find the ideal goalkeeper, you might just choose Thibaut Courtois. Belgium won all three games in the Group Stage, with two clean sheets and only one goal conceded. That goal was only surrendered on a penalty kick. At 6’5” with long arms, he is the rock that stabilizes the Belgian defense. As the youngest goalkeeper to ever play for the Belgian national team, he will be hard to beat on Tuesday.
80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls. OK, stick with me on this one. Belgium have insane depth in midfield creativity and pace. They will create scoring chances for their striker, most likely Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku’s job is to get in the right position, know his angles (like billiards - see I was going somewhere with this), and put the ball in the net. The strikers don’t need to create the chances on their own, they just need to finish the play in front of them. This could be a weak point for Belgium, as Lukaku has not been at his best and the other option is Divock Origi, who is young and untested on this big a stage.
Brussels sprouts really do come from Belgium, and have grown in the Brussels area for over 400 years. I live in a vegetarian household where Brussels sprouts are worshipped. But some might say that Brussels sprouts are a necessary evil. You don’t love them, but you eat them because they're good for you. Similar to Brussels sprouts, Vincent Kompany may get overlooked by all the shiny creative players Belgium has, but he does all the little things that a team needs to win. The Red Devils’ captain has all the qualities you want in a leader; he is gritty, hungry, and passionate. There's a slight chance an injury can keep him out of this game, and that would be a big boost for the USMNT. Knowing Kompany though, I would wager that we will see him on Tuesday leading the defense and putting his body on the line for his team.
We ran the numbers, and Belgium have a 71.71% chance of beating the U.S., meaning the USMNT only have a 28.29% chance of winning. The odds clearly favor the Belgians.
Now that we are in the Knockout Stage, there are no draws - there will be a winner. I expect the Belgians to have a majority of possession and carefully ask questions of the USMNT back line. The USMNT will have to be patient and try to hit them on the counterattack using the pace of Fabian Johnson. Jan Vertonghen is a natural center back playing left back, a position he has stated he is uncomfortable playing. Perhaps that's the area USA can exploit.
Napolean was famously defeated at Waterloo in Belgium. The U.S. will have to overcome some serious odds to claim another famous moment involving Belgium once again.