Football fever has gripped America during this World Cup and only a third quarter final – they were semi finalists all the way back in 1930, and reached the last eight in Japan and Korea in 2002 – looks to be well within reach for the Stars and Stripes, facing a knockout tie against Belgium tonight that they look to have a better chance of winning than the markets think.
With such a tough group stage the Americans had an uphill task on paper to be making the latter stages but resoluteness and sharp finishing at the very first and latest stages bought them success against Ghana in their opening game and they were then comfortably the better side against Portugal, only to be denied by an unfortunate defensive lapse early and a Cristiano Ronaldo super ball late on, and their last group game against Germany isn’t worth much in form terms with both sides not at great risk of elimination, although they did only lose by the one goal in the end and generally restricted the Germans to half chances.
Belgium were expected to do big things at these finals and still can, but they have not played like the odds on favourites that they are within 90 minutes tonight. Their 2-1 win against Algeria was a solid start to the tournament, emphasised by the level of the Africans performances since – especially in a fantastic game against Germany last night – but their 1-0 win against Russia was an unimpressive and dire affair where they struggled for long periods to create much through any outlet apart from Dries Mertens. Divock Origi’s presence in that and the opening game improved them immense and it’s going to be fascinating to see who exactly starts upfront with Romelu Lukaku having failed to impress at all so far.
The USA’s main issue today will be getting at the exceptional Thibaut Courtois, but whoever’s playing at leftback (either Vermalen or Vertonghen) will be out of position, an invitation that Fabian Johnson does not need to be given twice to get forward, and both Russia and South Korea had plenty of opportunities with the Atletico Madrid stopper in top form in the latter encounter.
Today should see a more settled lineup that plays to something like their best, with Hazard and Meterens easily the biggest threats given how Ghana and Portugal made hay down the far side before the final ball let them down, but midfield trip Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley’s workrate has been outstanding and they are likely to disrupt Kevin De Buryne and Alex Wistel in particular. This looks to be one of the most tightly matched games of the last 16 and the USA can take this to extra time at the least; Consider the 16/1 on them qualifying through extra time very strongly as a value bet.
2.5 pts USA/Draw (4/5 general)