Perhaps no match has been mentioned more in the run-up to Belgium’s meeting with the United States in the World Cup’s Round of 16 than the Red Devils 4-2 squashing of the Yanks in Cleveland.
It was messy, ugly and… probably not a great gauge of how the teams will engage on Tuesday in Brazil.
Fans who constantly reference the line-ups when the States beat Germany 4-3 should be partially-forbidden from discussing the Belgium friendly loss as a precursor to this match, but let’s take a look back at the match.
Aside from the fact that friendlies can include boatloads of substitutes and not a ton of intensity, this one occurred four days before Jurgen Klinsmann’s famous win over his birth nation.
Against Belgium last year, the States started Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Damarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Graham Zusi, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
Missing there, however you want to grade his current World Cup, is Michael Bradley. So are current players of import like Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson and Kyle Beckerman. All three have been critical to the U.S. in this World Cup. Of those four, only Besler checked into the friendly.
Also, by the way, Tim Howard checked out at halftime with the score 1-1. Christian Benteke, who will not be playing for Belgium, then scored two of the Red Devils three goals against Brad Guzan.
Which brings us to Belgium, who will likely boast at least four major changes from the 4-2 Stateside defeat of the Yanks. Benteke is gone, as previously mentioned, while Steven Defour will miss with his red card suspension. Thibaut Courtois is between the sticks in place of Simon Mignolet, while Daniel van Buyten, Axel Witsel and either Dries Mertens or Nacer Chadli should see starts instead of Thomas Vermaelen, Kevin Mirallas and Benteke (not even exchanges, but the formations are different).
So here’s what we’re saying (lot of ‘duh’ factors here):
1) Belgium’s a very good, but different, team now
2) The United States have a decent, but much different, team now
3) World Cup matches are way more intense than May friendlies
Even if all things were equal, as they were at halftime of the friendly, in terms of the US team specifically — and most importantly — Tim Howard for 90 minutes is better than 45.
So let’s stop with using that match as a worthwhile part of our discussion, huh?