United States national team has hands full tonight versus heavily talented Belgium

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Don’t be fooled by Belgium’s larger lack of marquee status in world soccer. The team is seriously on the rise and, in a word, stacked.

The roster reads like a who’s who of European up-and-comers. When attached to a couple of older hands, like commanding Manchester City center back Vincent Kompany, you see why Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team has its mitts full tonight in Cleveland.

A crowd of about 25,000 will watch as a U.S. team slightly diminished by absences due to injury and ongoing club commitments kicks off at 8 p.m. ET at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

It’s just a friendly for the Americans, a way to polish and fine-tine for the far more important World Cup qualifiers ahead. So it’s low-pressure stuff in that regard. Still, no one wants to finish on the wrong end of a beating – and all the questioning that comes with it – and the Belgians have a sequined assembly certainly capable of delivering one.

(MORE: U.S. lineup prediction for tonight)

Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard has returned to Europe due to injury, but the Belgians do have Spurs midfielder Moussa Dembélé, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (pictured, left) and Zenit St. Petersburg tough performer Axel Witsel in midfield, a formidable match for a U.S. team missing its most important man in the middle, Michael Bradley.

Striker Romelu Lukaku is sure to test a young U.S. back line; he’s soaring with confidence after recording a a hat-trick for West Brom on the final day of the English Premier League season in that wild 5-5 draw with Manchester United. Lukaku, 20, spent the season on loan from Chelsea, and may soon join Champions League runner-up Dortmund on loan for the coming campaign.

If Lukaku isn’t tormenting the U.S. rear guard, then it could be Christian Benteke, who meant so much to Aston Villa’s spring dash to stave off relegation. Benteke may also soon be on the move.

Joining Kompany in the back for Belgium is versatile Spurs man Jan Vertonghen and Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen.

Manager Marc Wilmots, who captained Belgium’s last World Cup team, back in 2002, even has great options in goal. There he has Thibaut Courtois, a Chelsea man who just spent a successful season on loan at Spain’s Atletico Madrid, or first-choice Sunderland ‘keeper Simon Mignolet from which to choose.

Roll them all together – we didn’t even mention Everton’s Kevin Mirallas or Porto’s Steven Defour or, well, we could go on … —  and it really is an impressive bunch. This piece at ESPN FC notes how all the pieces piled up turned Belgium into a virtual version of world soccer’s third most expensive team. That’s based on transfer fees that reached $226 million last summer.

Speaking of transfer fees, expect to hear a lot this summer about Fellaini; the Everton man and his explosion of dark hair are expected to be among July’s top transfer targets.

Can this team be as good as the highly capable Belgian teams of the 80s, when the land finished third in a World Cup (1986)? “We are quite technically strong, but also there is a lot of strength and power in the team,” Fellaini said in this piece, which attempts to dissect the recent rush of talent emerging from a relatively small land of 11 million.

That’s about the size of Ohio, population-wise. So, that’s not bad at all for the country now ranked 15th by FIFA – if you put any weight in those things. (If you do, the United States is ranked 33rd.)

(MORE: Three things to watch for US tonight vs. Belgium)

(MORE: Klinsmann reveals lineup tidbits)

(MORE: U.S. back line will be young)

(MORE: Beasley hits mileposts No. 100, plus other U.S. notes)

(More on the United States and how Jurgen Klinsmann’s team might look later today at ProSoccerTalk)

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

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The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

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Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE