Portugal beat Team USA 2-2 on Sunday, setting the stage for an Oedipal conflict between Jurgen Klinsmann, his dual nationals, and Germany’s powerhouse attack. Though both teams could weather a loss (a losing US Squad could withstand a close Portuguese loss or a less-close win) the Paris Peace Treaty grudge match will see the two sides competing over familiar, contested ground: Belgium. The winner of the “Group of Death” will likely play either Algeria or Russia in the first knockout stage while the second place finisher takes on the Battlefield of Europe’s “Golden Generation.”
Belgium isn’t a name that inspires terror, but ask the players in the Premier League about these names: Lukaku, Fellaini, and Hazard. The Belgian midfield and offense is stacked with young talent with massive upside and quick feet. That’s a very real concern for Team USA, which is prone to error. The Belgians would be faster than the Portuguese to capitalize on mistakes. Romalu Lukaku is a hulking finisher and his Chelsea teammate Eden Hazard is among the most dynamic players in the tournament. He’s happy dishing or going to goal.
Should the US squad fail to fell Germany, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman will be doing some Richard Sherman-style homework on Marouane “Screech” Fellaini, the human pompom who controls pace for the Red Devils while playing offense-minded defense. It was Bradley who lost possession just prior to the last-second Portuguese equalizer. He’ll have to be stronger on the ball against the Tangier-born, 6’4” dual national. Beckerman, for his part, will have to contain and adjust to not having the worst haircut on the field.
Team USA could beat Belgium, but Klinsmann doesn’t want it to come to that. When the American boys fall behind, they fight their way back in by relying on athleticism and strength. The Belgian squad is just as athletic and probably faster. They are also hyped to the point that anything short of domination would represent failure. They are desperate in the way only dark horses turned favorites can be.
Germany looms, but America’s new fans would do well to remember that the Group isn’t the tournament. If the squad’s fluky loss to Portugal proved anything, it’s that the Yanks can compete. The likeliest scenario is that we will be facing Belgium on July 1 in Salvador. The German game is important, but it’s also a test run. If we figure out how to stop Thomas Muller, we might – just might – have a plan for dealing with Eden Hazard.
Photos by REX USA/Greig Cowie/BPI