USA 2-4 Belgium: A successful sojourn Stateside

Belgium warmed up for next month’s World Cup qualifier at home to Serbia with a 2-4 win against the United States in Cleveland, which was well worth burning the midnight oil for. You can watch the highlights below and then see how much I remember of the early hours of this morning as well as a few reactions.

Wilmots named the following starting eleven:

Mignolet ; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen ; Fellaini, Defour, Dembélé ; Mirallas, Lukaku, De Bruyne

Alderweireld was thus preferred to Guillaume Gillet at rightback, Fellaini began as the deepest midfielder or as a “6” in Benelux parlance, Defour began ahead of his ex-teammate meaning that De Bruyne continued to play in the front three with Mirallas and Lukaku being preferred to Mertens and Benteke.

Unlike in their World Cup qualifiers, the Rode Duivels took an early lead. Alderweireld played a fine cross field ball to De Bruyne, who then released an admittedly offside Lukaku. Tim Howard came out of his goal and got there first but unfortunately for the Everton man, his defenders were too slow to anticipate and react to the danger, allowing the quick-thinking Mirallas to nip in and chip the ball into the unguarded goal.

Benteke was disappointed to start on the bench but enjoyed playing in tandem with Lukaku. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Benteke was disappointed to start on the bench but enjoyed playing in tandem with Lukaku. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

To their credit the United States responded well and equalised just after the midway point of the first half, thanks partly to a well-worked set piece and partly to a sly push in Vertonghen’s back from Geoff Cameron. Vermaelen played well I felt until his injury, sensing the danger well and subsequently coming out with the ball. It was unfortunate that he had to come off with a thigh problem, especially given his lack of playing time with Arsenal and it’s very much a case of wait and see ahead of the Serbia game. Lukaku was coming deep to receive the ball but not to hold it up, rather he was laying it off first time as Wilmots placed the emphasis on ball circulation.

Wilmots then made an interesting tactical change. Dembélé was feeling ill and had to come off but Benteke came on in his place to play alongside (in reality just off) Lukaku. Benteke had said he was open to such an idea but didn’t expect it to be tried out. As it happened, Benteke went on to score twice – the first was a simple finish after De Bruyne again showed his ability to pounce on a defensive error [as in Skopje] and the second came when he was put through by an excellent Defour pass – the Porto man, who is hoping to replace Joao Moutinho – had played another gem of a ball to Lukaku a few minutes beforehand. Benteke-Lukaku showed that if needs must, they can work together but let that not detract from the fact the 4-3-3 is in good working order as far as the Diables Rouges are concerned, even sans Witsel and Eden Hazard.

Sandwiched between the two Benteke goals, which incidentally came against his Aston Villa teammate Brad Guzan, was a Marouane Fellaini header, which came after a magnificent cross from…Kevin De Bruyne. He was one of very few Werder players who stood up to be counted this season and he again showcased his ability on the international stage last night. De Bruyne is a marvel to watch and in all honesty, I’m not too fussed where he plays – not because I hold a minority view in preferring him closer to goal than in the centre of midfield but because he’s such a rounded player it doesn’t matter a great deal. He can play any type of pass he wants and he’s very tactically aware, defensively and offensively – let this boy go at your peril Chelsea. You can understand why Klopp would love him to bits.

Dempsey pulled a goal back from the spot on an evening when the Americans did not disgrace themselves, evident though the gulf in class was. Some of the refereeing was akin to the Pro League [a wrongly disallowed goal and Alderweireld was unfortunate to concede the penalty] but despite that and Vermaelen’s injury, it’s been a worthwhile trip westwards for the team as Wilmots got the group together, they were able to relax (and pay tribute to the 9/11 victims – some perspective is always good for team building – just ask the Australian cricket team) and have a good run out against the USA. As a footnote, Thorgan Hazard made his full international debut near the end and Timmy Simons won his 93rd cap – he’s just three behind Jan Ceulemans now.

Marc Wilmots:  Once more I saw a Belgian team who went on the front foot. We had 6 or 7 chances to score, as in every match. We could have scored more. Romelu wasn’t offside when he scored his “goal”. Having lots of chances is becoming our hallmark. We dominated the match and possession. I also tried out another system with Romelu and Benteke up front together after the substitution of Dembélé. It was a success but that didn’t come as a surprise. Nevertheless I remain an advocate of 4-3-3 but now we know we can change it up if needs be.  We have 8 or 9 days (to monitor Vermaelen) but if he is out, we have enough options to replace him.

Christian Benteke: I was a bit disappointed not to start but I respect the coach’s decision. I hope to start next week against Serbia. I liked playing with Lukaku in attack. I played a little bit deeper and I like that as I can get a lot of touches of the ball and Lukaku likes to go in behind. He put me at ease. When I play alone up front, all the attention is centred on me. Now, it’s also on him.

Thomas Vermaelen: I suddenly felt something in my thigh. We’ll have to wait and see how the injury comes on. It’s a pity because I was happy that I could finally play and had counted on playing 90 minutes.

Marouane Fellaini: “I am pleased to have scored after a great cross from De Bruyne and I am happy with how I played as a number six. It’s my preferred position but I know that’s Witsel’s position. No bother, I accept the coach’s decision. In any case, the most important thing is to qualify for the World Cup. We have had to wait long enough.”

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