This is Belgium’s first major tournament since 2002, but still they are everybody’s favourite dark horse. They have players who are plying their trades in some of the big leagues in Europe. Some of them have even experienced winning the league titles – notably Thibaut Courtois who was instrumental in breaking the hegemony of Barca and Real Madrid in La Liga and Vincent Kompany who captained Manchester City to their 2nd Premier League title in 3 years. Belgium have a strong midfield that can match other teams physically and at the same time can pass the ball around. And then add the flair of Eden Hazard who is arguably one of the finest young talents on the horizon and the hype surrounding their team begins to make sense. But so far, Belgium has not done enough in this World Cup to justify their dark horse tag. A look at the points table may suggest that they couldn’t have done better, but they were in a relatively easier group and at times looked like making heavy weather of beating the opponents. Now with knock-out games, they will surely need to raise their game. Even if Belgium can nick it past USA, a potential Quarter Final against Argentina will be a different proposition altogether. A big worry for Belgium would be the form (rather the lack of it) of their strikers. In the absence of Benteke, the responsibility of leading the attack has fallen on Romelu Lukaku but he still appears raw. The other problem area for Belgium is the lack of width in their play – both from their attacking players as well as from full backs, sometimes making their attack very unilateral.
Key player (Belgium) : Eden Hazard
USA on the other hand doesn’t boast the star studded line-up that Belgium has with majority of their team comprising players from MLS. Although one advantage of that is that they are better rested than their European counterparts. Their coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has brought the famed German efficiency to this team and at times they have played like a well-oiled German machine – well organized, difficult to break down and efficient in attack. Finishing 2nd in the group ahead of Portugal and Ghana is a testimony that USA has indeed arrived and can’t be taken lightly anymore. In Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey they have an experience duo that is familiar with some of the Belgium players who play/have played in Premier League. USA could also be encouraged by the news of defensive crisis that their opponents are facing with both Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen not expected to play for Belgium.
Key Player (USA) : Clint Dempsey
I expect it to be a tight tactical game with either side hoping to score 1 goal and see out the rest of the game. I will not be surprised to see the game ending 0-0 and then penalties deciding the winner – which is going to be Belgium, obviously because of Thibaut Courtois.