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Point/Counterpoint: Will the United States beat Belgium in the Round of 16?

BY DI STAFF | JULY 01, 2014 5:00 AM

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Yes

The United States finds itself in the Round of 16 for the second World Cup in a row, and when the Americans take the pitch to face Belgium today, they have plenty of reason to feel confident.

First, with news coming Monday that forward Jozy Altidore will be fit and available to play, the American squad will be back to full strength in time for do-or-die play. Altidore’s only game during group play against Ghana was also the team’s only victory.

It is also encouraging that the Belgians have not performed as well as some of the talent on the squad would indicate.

Talented striker Christian Benteke has been unavailable for the World Cup after suffering a severe Achilles tendon injury prior to the tournament. Furthermore, the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Belgian squad — Eden Hazard — has been quiet in Brazil and was unable to find the net in any of the first three games.

Belgium was 3-0 in Group H, but three relatively unimpressive wins against No. 22 Algeria, No.  19 Russia, and No. 55 Korean Republic is not as threatening as meets the eye and certainly not as remarkable as surviving the Group of Death.

The Americans have defended fairly well for most of the game against top competition such as Germany and Portugal and they should be battle-tested enough after those games to avoid any simple mistakes should Belgium continue lackluster offensive performance.

Jürgen Klinsmann has the United States headed in the right direction, and I fully expect it to prove it by advancing to its first quarterfinal appearance since 2002.

— Kyle Mann

No

At the risk of putting a damper on the country’s newfound affection for the United States, the idea of America’s little overachievers prevailing over Belgium is a proposition I don’t “believe.”

This isn’t to say that the group hasn’t been impressive. Since his hiring in 2011, Klinsmann has carefully crafted the team that many are calling the greatest in our country’s history, and after a win against Ghana and strong performances against Portugal and Germany, Team USA has truly earned both these rave reviews and its spot in the Round of 16.

Despite surpassing expectations, today will likely be the end of the line for the believers. Thus far, the United States has fared well against a litany of good defenses, but unfortunately for the Americans, they won’t play a good defense tonight — they’ll be competing against a complete defensive juggernaut.

While America has displayed sporadic offensive excellence, the team was unable to score on a German group that allowed Ghana to score twice. Tonight’s opponent has yet to surrender a goal during open play.

But is Belgium at full strength? Those pulling for the Red, White, and Blue are quick to cite injuries to a few potential defensive starters, claiming that their absence could swing the outcome in favor of the United States.

These arguments fail to recognize the talent of Belgium’s remaining players, most obviously goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who, at the tender age of 22, has been perhaps the most consistent defensive force in the Cup’s early stages.

While there is a talent discrepancy between the Americans and their opponents, I believe experience will be the deciding factor. America’s promising start caught opponents off guard in the group stage, but now that the competition has progressed into the knockout phase, the club’s limited time together will severely hamper its chances.

Klinsmann’s handpicked bunch possesses talent, toughness, and tenacity, but ultimately, lacks the familiarity and cohesion to overcome Courtois and the throng of capable defenders still available for tonight’s game.

While soccer fans should be commended for their ardent support of this year’s iteration of the United States, when faced with Belgium’s defense and experience, it won’t matter what they believe.

— Will McDavid


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