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When and Where
12 PM ET, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil
How They Got Here
The World Cup started with a bang for the US. Literally. Clint Dempsey scored 29 seconds into their game with Ghana, the fastest goal by the US in World Cup history. The Americans held that lead for 81 minutes. Andre Ayew scored to tie the game up in the 82nd minute, but the Americans quickly answered. John Brooks scored off a corner in the 86nd minute, giving the Yanks a late, dramatic win and ridding the ghosts of Ghana past. Their game against Portugal was equally as thrilling. The US fought back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1. Jermaine Jones absolutely ripped a shot into the back of the net in the 64th minute to tie it. Clint Dempsey gave the US the lead (with his junk?) in the 81st minute. The Americans were on the verge of the greatest win in their World Cup history, as they were seconds away from their first win when conceding the first goal in the World Cup. This was until a Michael Bradley miscue in the midfield led to Cristiano Ronaldo putting a perfect cross into the box for Varela to head into net. Heartbreak for the US (and me, and probably you too).
Going into their final group stage game against Germany, the US could advance under their own volition with a win or draw. They did neither. Thankfully the old gods were looking over the US, as Portugal defeated Ghana on this dreadful error by Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey. The US were through with that result and onto the round of sixteen for the second consecutive World Cup, a first in US soccer history. Now, the US have an eye on the quarterfinals, which they haven't made since 2002 (their only time in the modern era).
They face a youthful Belgium squad that is ripe with talent. In their opening match against Algeria, they went down 1-0, but fought back to win 2-1. A win that in hindsight looks much better, as Algeria was thought to be more of a pushover in the opening match but proved to be much more. Their second game against Russia turned out to be just as stressful and it looked like it was heading towards a 0-0 draw. In the dying minutes of the match, Eden Hazard flashed his skill and set up a magnificent winning goal in the 88th minute. This win sent Belgium to the round of sixteen. Belgium secured the top of the group with a less-than-thrilling 1-0 win over South Korea and set up their matchup with the United States.
Here is a Comedy Central video promoting US soccer:
Michael Bradley, USA
I feel like a broken record, as I have picked Michael Bradley as the key player for the US in every game and every game he has been subpar. On the bright side, he has played better as the tournament has went on. Key mistakes marred his play in the first two, but Bradley played a fairly solid game against Germany. However, he is far from what we have come to expect from the stalwart midfielder. If he doesn't play up to expectations in this one, the US may be packing their bags tomorrow.
Eden Hazard, Belgium
The 23 year-old midfielder can be electric at times and invisible at others. The stage is set for Belgium to show the world their young and exciting talent. If Hazard gets things going for Belgium against the US, he may prove too much to handle. He possesses great speed and his dribbling is world-class. His foot acts as a magnet to the ball and he is very difficult to defend when he is on his game.
BONUS: Jozy Altidore, USA
Altidore is "ready and available" versus Belgium, which is huge. He missed the last two games after injuring himself in their first game against Ghana. Couple that with Belgian captain and star defender Vincent Kompany's playing status still up in the air and things are looking up for the US. Now, let's quell expectations a bit, as Jurgen Klinsmann has not discussed how much he would play, if at all. But if he plays and Kompany is out or is not at 100%, then the US have an advantage. Heck, this Kompany news is good for the US any way you slice it, as he is one of the world's premier defenders. But with Altidore in the lineup, the US attack takes on a new dimension. He is a strong, physical player and does things no one else on the roster can do for the US. He can be a difference-maker for the US in this one.
USA wins 1-0
The US are not known for their clean sheets, but I have a sneaking suspicion that today's the day it happens. They have played solid defense throughout this tournament, minus a few costly mistakes, two of which came from Geoff Cameron, who did not play their final game against Germany. If they cut out those mistakes, they may be able to frustrate a young and inexperienced Belgian squad. However, if Hazard runs loose in the midfield, the US could be in trouble. Then there is Marouane Fellaini, who stands at 6'4", and is a great target in the box for the Belgians to aim at. If the US don't mark him, he will almost certainly bury one. In the counter game for the US, which will be vital, Fabian Johnson's speed could come in handy. He dazzled against Portugal, but was underwhelming against Germany. If he can push the ball up the field like he did two games ago, he can give the US the extra jolt of offense they may need.
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