It actually is all on the line this afternoon. Jurgen Klinsmann will lead the United States against Belgium this afternoon with a berth in the World Cup quarterfinals on the line. We polled the B&RU staff, and here's how we think things will play out in Salvador.
Any hopes that the U.S. would face a decimated Belgian squad are dashed when Kompany and Fellaini all make the starting XI. Still, it is a 1-1 score entering the 77th minute when...Jozy returns to the field. Jozy is the difference, setting up a Fabian Johnson goal in the 88th minute for a 2-1 USA win and a trip to the quarterfinals. And yes, I have Gray's Sports Almanac so this prediction is ironclad!
Belgium could very likely be without Vermaelen and Kompany against a US team liable to have Jozy Altidore back. While I am slightly bullish on the US chances, I had them on planes back home now, so what do I know? I'll extend the reverse juju some more and say 1-0 Belgium.
There's a lot of talk about infighting among the Belgians. They've got so many good players who know how good they are that these players now jealously fight over the starting positions, feel snubbed, resent each other, etc. And so, at just the time the Red Devils come apart at the seams, USA's team is uniting like never before. That's what we're good at: pulling together and pulling it off. Good ole grit-and-determination (ugly at times though it may be!) versus too-many-talented-and-easily-offended-egos. USA 3, Belgium 2. I predict a classic American victory.
I am completely unable to be anything other than a fan on this prediction. The US beats Belgium 2-0. Because freedom, Abraham Lincoln, motherhood, apple pie, land of the free, home of the brave, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, 20,000 American Outlaws, my children, and I Have A Dream! And Klinsmann.
A gut feeling says the U.S. is going to be swept up in this round's 20-foot wave of extra-time games. I'd expect Klinsmann's players to be tactically disciplined and cautious, just as in the group stage, and end regulation 1-1 thanks largely to a resurgent Michael Bradley. Hazard scores the eventual game-winner in stoppage time, though, for a hard-fought American exit.
Belgium hasn't yet convinced, putting in mediocre performances that turned to wins via one great play (or, in their last match, multiple errors by South Korea). Throw in the rumored injuries to Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, and others - not to mention the confirmed, tournament-ending injury to Anthony Vanden Borre - and I actually kind of like our chances. If this were Football Manager, Belgium would have the far stronger team. Fortunately this is reality, and as much as people like to deride intangibles things like unity, cohesion, and commitment go a long way. Otherwise, we'd already be out.
The US is further ahead in those categories than Belgium is in terms of raw talent, so I predict a scrappy 2-1 win with the US getting goals from Bradley and Dempsey. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to resume tensing every muscle in my body.
I think that USA getting Belgium, especially over Algeria, is a good thing. Sure, they are talented, but they had unrealistic expectations coming into the tournament and (surprise!) they haven't lived up to them. They should be better than the USA, but UEFA teams haven't looked that great in their opposite hemisphere. All of that said, however, I think that they get the job down and get a 2-1 victory, heartbreaking for all of us.
Adam M Taylor:
If we liken managers in soccer to generals, then a German is leading his army into battle against Belgium. We got this. It's just going to take longer than we want it to. Clint Dempsey puts the US up early, but we concede just before halftime. A scoreless second half sends the game to extras, where the side Roberto Martinez has called the fittest at this tournament finds a game-winner when the Real Michael Bradley (hey, look, another general!) finally stands up. 2-1 to the Red White and Blue AET.
Your turn. Let us know in the comments how you think the Stars & Stripes will fare against a country that doesn't even think it should exist.