Tim Howard, goalkeeper: On Tuesday, Howard will make his eighth start in a World Cup, which will pass Tony Meola for most in U.S. history. At 6-foot-3, Howard’s size is obviously an asset, but he’s also extremely agile. He has 35 career shutouts with the U.S.
Matt Besler, defender: A steady hand on the back line will be needed to contend with the young, athletic Belgian attack, and Besler fits the bill. He’s proved himself against the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Germany’s Miroslav Klose, denying both a goal.
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Clint Dempsey, forward: Got the World Cup off to a cracking start for U.S. fans when he scored in the first minute against Ghana. He also scored against Portugal. The thing about Dempsey is he’s nervy. That’s not a complaint, it’s actually a good thing. Dempsey is not afraid to try anything to score.
Eden Hazard, midfielder: The Chelsea playmaker assisted on the winning goals in Belgium’s first two games. But he also has a temper. In 2011, he was substituted in a game against Turkey and was spotted at a hamburger stand before the game had ended.
Axel Witsel, midfielder: Nicknamed the Beast, Witsel plays in front of the Belgian defense and is a key component to the midfield. He is an intelligent distributor of the ball and also a sure tackler who can stifle an opponent’s attack.
Vincent Kompany, defender: A strained groin has left Kompany’s status for the game uncertain. But he’s everything you want in a center back: big (6-foot-3), strong, has good positioning and anticipation and can spring an attack.
Former U.S. coach Bruce Arena once said of Clint Dempsey: “He just tries (stuff).” True enough. Dempsey can be a nightmare. Whether it’s his fancy footwork that stunned Ghana, stomaching a shot past Portugal or his spinning long-range shot against England, he’s a handful. A healthy Jozy Altidore would be an even bigger boost to the attack. Belgium has scored each of its four goals in the 70th minute or later. The only goal scored by a forward came from 19-year-old Divock Origi, who has caught the eye of Liverpool. Advantage: USA.
CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
Can’t argue with what Belgium has done so far: One goal conceded — and it was on a penalty kick. Belgium will enter the game with a 245-minute scoreless streak. And during World Cup qualifying, Belgium allowed a mere four goals in 10 games. However, there are health issues, and Belgium could start center backs at all four positions, which could work in the U.S. favor. Although the U.S. has allowed four goals, it kept the German attack to just one goal in the last game. After a shaky game against Ghana, DeMarcus Beasley has proved effective at left back and Matt Besler has been stellar. Advantage: Belgium.
The Belgian midfield is unbelievably talented. Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Axel Witsel (Zenit St. Petersburg), Steven Defour (Porto) and Nacer Chadli (Tottenham Hotspur) all play for some of the world’s biggest teams. Coach Marc Wilmots takes advantage of the riches in a 4-3-3 formation that can look like a 4-5-1 or even a 4-1-4-1 at times. Belgium makes a lot of diagonal runs with wingers getting the ball from the midfield. It also relies on counter-attacks, which could pose a problem for the U.S. team, which in theory tries pushing the attack. If Altidore is still out, coach Jurgen Klinsmann likely will go with a 4-2-3-1 look with Clint Dempsey on top and Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi attacking from the midfield. Advantage: None.
Wilmots had short stints with Schalke in Germany and Sint-Truiden in Belgium. Klinsmann coached Germany to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup. Advantage: USA.
What do we have? Team USA? Yanks? Belgium is called “The Diables Rouges” or the Red Devils. That’s just superior. Advantage: Belgium.
While you can always spot Kyle Beckerman on the field, his locks are a bit too familiar to soccer fans in the States. Been there, done that, right? Wait until fans get a look at Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini, whose Afro is sure to draw a comment or three. Here’s the deal, though — should Belgium win the World Cup, Fellaini has promised to shave his locks. Advantage: Belgium.
POUR ME A BEER
Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat bought Boulevard Brewing last year. So what’s ours is now Belgium’s. There are a lot of ways to look at that, but we choose to see it as Belgium (Stella Artois?) can’t match Kansas City (Tank 7) for beer. Advantage: Kansas City.
BEST FAN CELEBRATION
This one is a slam dunk. Here was the celebration after a Belgian victory over Algeria at the World Cup:
Here is the Power & Light District during this year’s World Cup:
BY THE NUMBERS
1 — Goal scored by USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann against Belgium in World Cup play. It came in the 1994 Round of 16 in Chicago
2 — Broken noses by Team USA players this tournament