At almost any point of the last 20 years, a national team friendly against Belgium would rate an “Oh, that’s nice,” from most U.S. Soccer supporters. A little bit like average pizza for lunch; it’s pizza and all, and that’s not terrible, but you know there are better slices out there.
Since some better days in the 80s, Belgium has dwelled in the middle class of European soccer, leaning toward the bottom end of the continent’s mid-level over the last decade or so.
But today’s Belgium is absolutely brimming with bright potential. Which is why a May 29 U.S. friendly at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, just announced today by U.S. Soccer, is something U.S. supporters can truly toast.
From U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann: “Belgium is definitely a team on the rise. If you look at their roster, they have quality players from top to bottom who are on some of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a big opportunity for us and a great way to start the summer as we prepare for the World Cup qualifiers.”
Belgium is currently tied with Croatia atop Group A in World Cup qualifying out of Europe. No wonder, really, when a young standout like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has trouble making the starting lineup in those qualifiers. He was on the bench to start Belgian’s contest last fall at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, where Marc Wilmots’ team was dominant in a 2-0 win.
With a defense orchestrated by Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany (pictured in Belgian uniform), a midfield run buy Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Tottenham’s Moussa Dembele, plus stars in the making like Hazard and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke to score the goals, this truly is one of Europe’s wow-wow sides of the moment.
There will be no lower league wonder story in the League Cup semifinals.
Southampton and Liverpool’s marquee matchup in the quarterfinals of the League Cup will hit your screens on Wednesday, but three other Premier League teams booked their spots in the semis with Tuesday wins.
Man City last won the League Cup in 2013, while Stoke last won in 1972 and Everton has never hoisted the Football League Cup. As for Wednesday’s quarterfinalists, Southampton’s last League Cup final came in 1979, while Liverpool most recently won in 2012.
Middlesbrough 0-2 Everton
The Toffees got two goals in eight first-half minutes, with Gerard Deulofeu scoring a goal off a magnetic dribble and shot in the 20th minute and Romelu Lukaku adding another in the 28th.
Manchester City 4-1 Hull City
Steve Bruce‘s Tigers still have plenty of power from last season’s relegation campaign, and planted men behind the ball in hopes of springing an upset on Manchester City. The defense was broken in the first half by Wilfried Bony after just 12 minutes. Kelechi Iheanacho scored late, before Kevin De Bruyne put home two more. Andrew Robertson provided late consolation for Hull.
Stoke City 2-0 Sheffield Wednesday
The Potters got a wonderful left-footed volley goal from Ibrahim Afellay on the half-hour, and that was about all they’d need against the visiting Owls. Phil Bardsley hammered in a low free kick late to insure and ensure the victory.
Given that status, will he be attractive to other Liga MX clubs? Could he fit the plans of an MLS club? At age 23 and without consistent playing time for club, could a European stop be in the mix?
Transfermarkt estimates his value to about $1.6 million, and he comes with valuable international and CONCACAF Champions League experience. It will be interesting to see his destination, should the reports be true, as we continue to weigh what it means to be a U.S. international on the world stage.
Manchester City host Hull City at the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini‘s side hoping to have David Silva back in the starting lineup but Joe Hart is still out injured so Willy Caballero will continue in goal. Steve Bruce‘s side drew 1-1 at the Etihad last season when they visited City before being relegated from the Premier League. The Tigers are fighting for instant promotion back to the big-time and knocked out Leicester City on penalty kicks in the last round.
Everton face a tricky trip to the Riverside Stadium as Roberto Martinez and the Toffees play Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s side lost in the play-off final to Norwich last season but are looking good for promotion this term as they sit second in the second-tier and knocked out Manchester United on penalty kicks in the last round. Can Everton sort out their defensive frailties?
A third PL club has a tricky test coming up on Tuesday as Stoke City’s reward for beating Chelsea on PKs in the last round is a home game against Sheffield Wednesday. This will be no stroll in the park for Mark Hughes‘ side as the second-tier Owls comfortably knocked off Arsenal in the last round and this game has “cupset” written all over it.
Below are the fixtures for Tuesday as you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.
League Cup quarterfinals
Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET
Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organization, they have only been offered seats on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.
The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch to FIFA’s ruling body ahead of meetings this week.