Belgium have started every game slowly, like a pub team who are still running off a full English and have no idea who that Dave bloke is who’s turned up to play down the left wing. They went a goal down to Algeria (although in the light of last night’s epic Germany v Algeria war, perhaps that was fair enough) and were stuck at 0-0 for far too long against boring Russia and soppy South Korea. They’ve been probably as bad as you possibly can be while still, er, winning all three games and topping your group.
The Americans are naturally defensive, but should forget that and get at the inexperienced Mitteleuropans immediately. Belgium literally do not have any full-backs – even with a fully fit squad they make do with centre-backs out wide – and now face a defensive injury crisis. Kompany, Vanden Borre, Ciman and Vermaelen are all either doubtful or definitely absent. The plan for Team America? Get it to the wings and cross it in for indestructible T-1000 poly-alloy attack-droid Clint Dempsey to score with his head, chest, face or testicles against the Belgians’ banged-up rearguard. If he can repeat his trick from the Ghana match and get a goal before the opposition have finished counting their money and putting their shin-pads on, all the better.
2. ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!
OK, so the USA are 1-0 up, that’s the easy part. What they mustn’t then do is retreat to their own 18-yard line, closing their eyes and holding hands, as they have in every match so far. The USA easily had the beating of Portugal and Ghana, but they squeezed luckily past Ghana and didn’t prevail against the Portuguese at all because they stopped playing once they’d scored and let the other team have a turn. This should not be the American way. No mercy. No surrender. No hilarious cheerleader high-kicks that give the ball to the other team in the middle of your foul box. No Sir.
The States have already emerged triumphant from Group G, the official Group of Death, with the battle scars and Clint Dempsey’s molten nose a testament to their grit. If you can beat Death itself, you can have a bash at Belgium. Surely. Come on.
3. GET JOZY ALTIDORE FIT
For anyone who saw Sunderland struggle in the Barclays British Premier MoneyBowl last season, the importance of Jozy Altidore to the USMNT, as it insists on calling itself, is hard to fathom. On Wearside, Altidore bundled in two goals in 38 appearances, playing an integral part in Sunderland’s descent to the bottom of the standings and often looking surprised or frightened by the ball.
But for USA, Dozy Jozy’s bulk and pace are vital: when Yankee backs are slammed against the goal-wall, they can hoof it up to the big man and escape. Altidore looked to have fatally twanged a hamstring during the Ghana match but is now “ready and available” to play. Hell and, to an extent, yeah.
4. IDENTIFY THE HAZARD. NEUTRALIZE THE HAZARD
Belgium have talented players all over the pitch, from giant-afro’d battering ram Marouane Fellaini and tiny, ginger schoolboy Kevin de Bruyne, to giant-afro’d playmaker Axel Witsel and goaltending beanpole Thibaut Courtois. But their key offender is Eden Hazard, the diminutive Chelsea Londoners winger. He unlocked the Russian defensive fortress and has caused bedlam among much better defences than America’s during his two seasons in English Soccer League Time. Right-back Fabian Johnson has been one of the stars of the tournament for USMNT, Inc but will need all his wits about him if he’s to shackle Hazard.
Perhaps a man-marking job by Graham “Zeus” Zusi, Jermaine “Hammerboot” Jones or Kyle “Quietly Effective Deep-Lying Ball-Winner” Beckerman would suit – especially as this would allow Johnson more licence to contribute to counter-attacks by sprinting past Hazard, who considers himself simply too sexy to track back and defend.
5. TRUST IN JÜRGEN
Soccer fans spat out their weak, tasteless beer in alarm when the noticeably non-American Jürgen Klinsmann was appointed as the Stars ‘n’ Stripes head coach. They lost their shizzle completely when the power-mad German declined to enlist record goal-achiever Landon Donovan in his Brazil 2014 army. But in a World Cup where substitutions have been crucial, Klinsi has outdone all his fellow managers with a series of brilliant swapsies.
The winning goal against Ghana – by far the greatest moment in American soccer history – was scored by John Brooks and assisted by Graham Zusi, both of whom had been de-benched by the Jürg. Then against Portugal, Klinsmann struck again, not only sending rookie defender DeAndre Yedlin into the fray ahead of his more grizzled colleagues, but playing him out of position in right midfield. Yedlin was brilliant, breaking to the byline to spark a move that climaxed with Clint Dempsey balling it in.
If there’s further Fussballgenie from Klinsmann tonight, Team USA might just advance from the eighth-finals for the third time in their history. U! S! Of A!