There has been a lot of compelling action so far in the Round of 16. Brazil continued to underwhelm in their penalty kick victory over Chile; Columbia and Costa Rica have continued their surprising run of good play; the world is out to get El Tri (or not); and France - Germany is setting up to be an epic battle for a spot in the semifinals. That continues with both matches today, although Argentina are certainly favored to move past Switzerland in the first match. Argentina hasn't impressed me much in this World Cup so I'm interested in how they approach cracking the Swiss defense.
Most folks reading this site are going to be more interested in the second match of the day ('Merica!). Our tee-time is scheduled for 4 pm and the fixture will be shown on ESPN. Hopefully ALL of the game gets televised this time (grumble). I want to give a brief preview of the action while admitting 2 things:
1. I really don't know much about this Belgian squad as a whole (although I'm sure they like beer, waffles, & chocolate)
2. I don't have the time to predict what the line-ups will be so my assumptions will probably be off
They are actually the favorites in this match, which may be tough to believe for the casual soccer fan. Just because they're a smaller nation does not impact the quality of their team. Many of their starters play in the Premier League and overall they have proven to be a solid squad. The U.S. team has lost to the Belgians twice in the last 3 years. However, Belgium played in a much easier group than the U.S. so they will have to step up their level of play. Against an easier group Belgium only managed 4 goals in total. 1 goal will not be enough to beat the USA in this game and if Belgium continue to struggle to score then they may pay the price. If anything sinks them it will be their sputtering offense.
Even though they aren't favorites there is still pressure on the American squad. They have high expectations after emerging from the "group of death" and they have already played well against scarier opposition. Hopefully Jozy Altidore can return and slide back into his role at the top of the U.S. attack. If he does this effectively then it will only help Clint Dempsey's inspiring play. The U.S. also desperately need Michael Bradley to get out of his funk. He has not yet lived up to expectations at this World Cup and he is running out of time to make an impact.
The U.S. defense faces the most pressure in this game. They need to avoid the kind of ridiculous errors that gave away cheap goals in the group stage. Belgium has struggled to score so a gift to them would be really devastating. The worst scenario at this point is to play from behind against a team that has only conceded 1 goal up to this point. Team USA will have to work hard to maintain possession of the ball and to crack an organized defense while not making themselves vulnerable to counterattack. Personally I hope Omar Gonzalez gets another start in the back because he was definitely our best defender in the Germany match and seemed to have a knack for being in the right place to make a crucial tackle.
My wife and I are celebrating our 8th anniversary tonight but she knows dinner is on hold until after the game. A spot in the quarterfinals against Argentina (or the Swiss...psh) is on the line. I believe!