World Cup 2014 last 16 preview: Belgium v USA
Belgium, odds-on at 2/5 to qualify for the quarter-finals, may face their toughest opposition yet, as they challenge a plucky and determined United States side led by Germany legend Jurgen Klinsmann.
These two nations have clashed three times before, with Belgium edging the head to head record with two wins, and last claiming the spoils in a 4-2 victory in 2013. The Red Devils are at 100/1 to replicate that scoreline, with Kevin Mirallas, who was opening scorer in the previous clash between the two nations, 7/1 to fire home first again.
Marc Wilmots’ team will arrive for the match with fresh legs, having been able to rest key players in their last group outing against South Korea, after which they emerged as pool winners. The likes of Eden Hazard, 15/8 to score anytime, and Kevin de Bruyne, 9/1 to net first, will return to what is, on paper, a fearsome attacking XI.
So far in their campaign, however, despite boasting some of the tournament’s most exciting young stars, the Red Devils have been underwhelming, only grabbing four goals in three games. They enter the first knockout round unbeaten, though, having conceded only once against Algeria, and are 27/20 to keep a clean sheet against the States.
Belgium also take an impressive record of five official wins in a row into the crunch clash, and are odds-on at 19/20 to defeat Klinsmann’s spirited side in 90 minutes. The North American team, however, can take heart from the fact that their opponents, whilst defensively sound, have struggled to convert and create chances, netting all their goals so far after the 70th minute. Attractive odds of 16/1 thus say the Red Devils will score their first in the 71-80 bracket.
A quick start could be key for underdogs USA, who netted at break-neck speed in the opening minute of their first Group G game against Ghana. Inspirational captain Clint Dempsey struck the initial blow on that occasion, and is 7/1 to be a hero and net the opener yet again. The former Fulham man also bagged the final goal in his nation’s last clash with Belgium, and is 7/1 to finish the scoring in this encounter.
Fortune may favour the United States, who have yet to give Bayern Munich winger Julian Green his tournament debut, taking a more attacking approach, as the Red Devils struggle to live up to their nickname.
Marc Wilmots needed 19-year-old Lille forward Divock Origi to inspire his side to success against Russia, with the youngster at 6/4 to net anytime in this match.
News that Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore may be fit enough to feature at some point will be music to former Spurs star Dempsey’s ears, after he toiled up front alone in the defeat to Germany, preferring a role in behind the target man.
Klinsmann’s team, are at 3/1 to beat Belgium in 90 minutes, and 2/1 to qualify for the quarter-finals, giving them no need to re-book their plane tickets just yet. The well-organised side are also 25/1 to pull off a sporting shock and make the final, following their great escape from the “Group of Death”.
Wilmots’ injury woes look set to continue though, as the Red Devils boss sweats over the fitness of defensive duo Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelan. The Premier Legaue pair should make the starting XI, but with backup options Laurent Ciman and Anthony Vanden Borre reportedly unavailable as alternatives, the Red Devils’ back-line is beginning to look wafer thin.
Steven Defour will also sit on the sidelines following his dismissal against South Korea for a needless two-footed tackle on Kim Shin-Wook, with Manchester United man Marouane Felliani and Zenit St.Petersburg star Axel Witsel anchoring midfield.
With Belgium depleted, the game is 5/1 to be the third last 16 fixture to end in a draw over 90 minutes, but the Red Devils will be hoping to avoid a penalty lottery. However, a game of chance may just play into the United States’ hands. The prize, a quarter-final duel against Argentina or Switzerland is well worth the risk.