Belgium v USA – World Cup preview

The last-16 clash in Salvador is live on BBC1

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Belgium v USA, 8.30pm BBC1 (kick-off 9pm)

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We’re used to the USA being gritty underdogs in football, a feeling previously heightened by the sense that nobody back home cared much. That’s changed for Brazil 2014: TV ratings, column inches and social media activity are all through the roof in the States. If the team can pull off an upset here, soccer’s breakthrough in the US will step up another couple of gears.

They certainly can win this. Punters who saw Belgium’s potential four years ago and backed them to lift the trophy at 300-1 were right to think that the youngsters would be a real force in international football by now. Yet so far in Brazil, Belgium have been about as unconvincing as you possibly can be while winning all three games.

The USA can be buoyed by Belgium’s slow starts – the Red Devils have relied on substitutes to win two out of their three matches – and by an injury crisis in the Belgium defence. Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen are doubts, while Laurent Ciman and Anthony Vanden Borre are definitely out. With Belgium already weak in both full-back areas – they don’t have any full-backs – the US have a chance to get it wide and get on the front foot early on.

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If they don’t, then the longer the game goes on, the more likely Belgium are to gel and the more chance there is of Eden Hazard or Dries Mertens producing a piece of skill that the spirited but limited Americans cannot handle. It could go either way.