A View from Belgium’s Opposition: USA
With the Dutch half of BeNeFoot making their way through to the quarter finals with a great late comeback against Mexico attention now turns to the Belgians. Belgium will take on another CONCACAF participant in the shape of the United States of America.
Despite the internet being awash as of late by badly written ‘soccer’ hate from less than savoury US writers, we decided to speak to a much more well respected and knowledgeable American: Janusz Michallik, who contributes to ESPN and Fox Sports, took time to answer or questions in anticipation of the Round of 16 clash.
The United States have long since become part of the furniture at the World Cup and after gaining some retribution against Ghana in the group stages – the team that eliminated them from the 2010 competition – are the team and fans confident of reaching the quarter finals in 2014 and defeating Belgium in the process?
Janusz Michallik: As you know confidence is something that Americans have in abundance in general. Don’t confuse that with arrogance as many mistakingly do. I just think that there will be no fear as such, while the team will of course respect the quality and talent that Belgium bring to the table. The performance against Portugal was very encouraging in that it showed that we can take initiative and not only attack but control the game against good opposition. I think that this is psychologically important because the team was very disappointing in those aspects against Ghana to a large degree and especially against Germany.
What is known about Belgium in the United States? There is no doubt that Belgium’s players are playing at some of the highest level of competition in Europe but as a football nation they are not so well known. Do the US fear the Belgian side or do they think that their great ‘nearly’ performance against Portugal is adequate preparation to take on the Red Devils?
Janusz Michallik: Belgium brings similar concerns to the table as Germany in my opinion. Strength, power, individual technical quality, quickness and depth to change the game off the bench. As I said above big task to deal with but there will be no fear.
Clint Dempsey is the obvious focal point of the United States but what can you tell us about the players we may not know already. With Belgium’s weakness generally accepted as being their centre backs playing at full back does the United States strengths match up well in this respect?
Janusz Michallik: Indeed the US team will have to get behind Belgiums back four as that is a perceived weakness. Not a lot of pace there. Trouble for the US maybe that this is exactly what the team lacks. Team pace. Individually Fabian Johnson has had a very good tournament so far at right fullback and will have to be more active in getting involved in the attack. Not sure if he will get the green light though as dealing with Eden Hazard on that side will be a priority and could be a natural necessity preventing him from doing that. Young DeAndre Yedlin has plenty of pace and little experience on the international level but I would not be shocked to see him there. Fresh and ready to go he could cause some problems.
Have you managed to see any of Belgium’s matches so far and what do you make of their performances and results?
Janusz Michallik: I have and I still don’t think we have seen Belgium at their best. Lack of experience at this level maybe bit of an issue. We all knew that Belgium has a lot of talent but I always felt that Wilmots almost has too many choices. Most pick themselves but choosing and settling on a first choice striker seems an issue. At the very least that is a position that at the moment lacks continuity and rhythm. Results may have been better than performances especially from some key performers. The group of course was not overwhelming so it still leaves a question of this Belgian team not being properly tested yet.
With this in mind how do you feel the last sixteen match between Belgium and the US will go and how far will the winner progress in the overall tournament?
Janusz Michallik: That is an unfair question to me of course. Belgium has more talent and on paper they are the better team. They are the favourites here. USA has dealt with this before and will have to show the fighting spirit and quality that they possess but don’t always show. If we play like we did against Portugal, Belgium is beatable. I hope that we find a way.
I feel like Belgium is still growing as a team in this tournament but it is getting late and they will need to put it together soon. When at their best, we all knew they can go far. Hoping that they will not put it together for this match.
And can Sacha Kljestan, who is set to leave Anderlecht this summer, work his way back into contention post-World Cup 2014?
Janusz Michallik: Not impossible but it maybe difficult for him. Klinsmann will look to integrate younger players for the new cycle and his age maybe against him a little. I could see him playing a part in qualifying if needed. All depends on where he goes next and how impressive he is of course.
We here at BeNeFoot would like to thank Janusz profusely for his great answers and we are glad to have such a well known football writer contributing to our feature. You can follow Janusz here.