BRUSSELS — The Belgian soccer league will start next season in empty stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic and it urged fans on Tuesday to avoid large gatherings when supporting their team.
The league’s decision came amid a surge of new COVID-19 infections in the country of 11.5 million inhabitants that has led the government to reintroduce drastic social-distancing measures. The restrictions announced Monday include lowering crowd limits at outdoor public events to 200 people.
The league said it wants “to guarantee the health of everyone in and around the world of soccer” with its decision.
Coronavirus infections nosedived in Belgium in May and June but the country has witnessed a surge in confirmed cases over the past three weeks. According to figures released Tuesday, the number rose 69% from July 18-24 compared to the previous seven days, with an average of 311 people testing positive every day.
The league called on fans to follow their teams from their own homes or within their so-called “social bubble,” which is now limited to the same five people for at least the next four weeks under the government’s latest guidelines.
“Only by following the measures as strictly as possible can we ensure the start of the soccer season,” the league said.
The season was stopped in May with Club Brugge awarded its 16th Belgian title after the government decided that all sporting competitions would remain suspended until July 31. Club Brugge will aim for a domestic double when it takes on Antwerp in Saturday’s Belgian Cup final, the first competitive game in the country since the virus brought soccer to a halt.
Following the shocking defeat to Japan (where a 2-0 scoreline in Japan’s favor heavily flattered the USMNT), Gregg Berhalter has plenty to think about as he juggles his roster around ahead of this final audition.
Yes, this final camp before the World Cup has seen the USMNT without six key players (Weah, Steffen, A. Robinson, Carter-Vickers, Richards and Musah) but the most concerning thing is that nobody took the opportunity given to them against Japan. Will anybody step up against Saudi Arabia and cement their spot in the roster, or even the starting lineup?
Below is our projected lineup, plus analysis on what Berhalter should do for the final 90 minutes he has with the team before they kick off their World Cup campaign against Wales on Nov. 21 in Qatar.
USMNT projected starting lineup vs Saudi Arabia (4-3-3)
—– Horvath —–
— Scally — Zimmerman — Palmer-Brown — Dest —
—- Adams —- McKennie —-
—- Reyna —-
— Aaronson — Pepi — Pulisic —
What should Berhalter do?
It’s clear that Gregg Berhalter will make plenty of changes as eight players (six outfield, two goalkeepers) didn’t have any minutes against Japan last time out. That said, he needs key players on this team to find some rhythm playing together less than two months before the World Cup kicks off. This starting lineup should be a mixture between giving players a final chance to impress and letting star players alongside each other as they look to build momentum ahead of the World Cup.
Matt Turner proved he’s the undisputed No. 1 as he excelled against Japan (perhaps the only player to leave that game with any credit) and although Zack Steffen is better with the ball at his feet, Turner appears to have the upper-hand. That leaves Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson to battle it out for the final goalkeeping spot on the roster. Expect them both to get a chance in this game.
In defense, Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie should both get plenty of minutes to make their final claim for a spot on the roster but it may be a surprise to see them line up together. Perhaps they will have 45 minutes each alongside Zimmerman (a guaranteed starter at CB) to see who fares better as a duo?
At full back Joe Scally should get a run out at right back, while Sergino Dest will likely show off his versatility and play left back. The likes of Dest, and others, need the game time given they’re on the fringes of their starting lineup for their club teams. We now what DeAndre Yedlin can do and he is a leader on this team who is going to Qatar no matter what.
In midfield, I’d start Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie together again. They looked awful against Japan which was very surprising. This duo have to get some kind of partnership going and 60 minutes together here could see things click back into place for them. We know what Luca de la Torre and Kellyn Acosta offer, while Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman could both get another, longer, chance to push for a spot on the roster.
Gio Reyna playing in a central role as a No. 10 should be something Berhalter prioritizes, while Christian Pulisic is fit and will start (according to Berhalter) so he should start on the left and Brenden Aaronson should start on the right. Getting Aaronson, Reyna and Pulisic used to playing together and interchanging is something that has to be done.
Up top, Berhalter has confirmed that Ricardo Pepi will get his chance to start and his physicality and speed should combine very well with the trio underneath him. Expect Josh Sargent to get a good chunk of minutes too, while Jesus Ferreira is the other option up top but maybe we could see Pulisic or Reyna playing up there as a false nine at some point of the game?
From Mexico’s snazzy away number to Germany going for a solid new look for their home kit and Puma rolling out a very specific and similar look for their national teams, just like they did for their club teams on their away kits, there is a lot to unpack here.
When November rolls around and the World Cup kicks off, which one of these jerseys will you be wearing with pride? And which one will you be wearing because it looks really cool?
Below is our rankings of the World Cup kits which have been released.
The home kit is classic. You can’t really mess up the blue and white stripes. Again, another lovely away kit. The purple is perfect and this just looks slick and silky. Much like Lionel Messi’s footwork.
Te presentamos nuestra nueva camiseta alternativa para el Mundial de #Qatar 💜
The new Away Jersey is inspired by Croatia’s nightlife and natural beauty, with vibrant Laser Blue checks reflecting the vibrancy of our country’s fast-moving festival culture and the azure waters of our coastline.#Croatia | @nikefootball | #Vatreni❤️🔥 pic.twitter.com/RAjYGDzJE8
This is the best of the Puma jerseys, as Senegal’s away kit is very distinctive and the green is lovely. This big panel on the middle of the kit is something we will get used to seeing a lot of during the World Cup.
Not quite sure what to make of this. The same velvety style as the Netherlands home shirt on Australia’s home shirt. Just doesn’t work. The away kit is also just very bland.
These home kits are just a little too plain and the flame pattern on the shoulder isn’t great and looks like a shirt I’d wear to my midweek bowling league. A missed opportunity. The same applies for the away kit. Belgium’s golden generation won’t look golden this World Cup.
There are a few clear favorites to win the trophy in Qatar but some of the giants have been handed tougher group stage draws than others which will obviously impact their chances of lifting the famous trophy.
Given that some of the favorites have also been struggling in recent Nations League games and friendlies with plenty of heavy defeats and strange results, there remains no real frontrunner to win the tournament. That is great news for neutrals.
When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022 Group stage game kick off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET) Location: Qatar TV channel in English: Fox TV channel in Spanish: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
World Cup Rankings – September 26, 2022
32. Tunisia – Down 1
31. Qatar – Down 4
30. Australia – Up 2
29. Ghana – Even
28. Cameroon – Down 3
27. Saudi Arabia – Up 1
26. Costa Rica – Up 4
25. Wales – Down 5
24. Iran – Even
23. Ecuador – Down 5
22. Morocco – Even
21. Canada – Up 2
20. USA – Down 4
19. Japan – Up 7
18. Poland – Up 3
17. Mexico – Up 2
16. South Korea – Down 1
15. Uruguay – Down 5
14. Serbia – Up 3
13. Senegal – Down 1
12. Switzerland – Up 1
11. Croatia – Up 3
10. Denmark – Up 1
9. England – Down 3
8. Germany – Down 3
7. Spain – Even
6. Netherlands – Up 3 5. Portugal – Up 3 4. France – Even
3. Belgium – Down 1
2. Argentina – Up 1
1. Brazil – Even
UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is behind Spain in its bid to return to the throne room, highlighting the odds that a new Nations League winner will be crowned at the end of third edition of the tournament.
England and Wales are also coming to terms with the concept of relegation to UEFA Nations League B after underwhelming campaigns. Hungary look set to reach the semifinal round, which is a huge surprise as they faced Germany, England and Italy in A3.
France lost to Denmark and just remained in League A as Austria were relegated, with Croatia pipping the Danes to a place in the semifinal round.
Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well but the Dutch triumphed down the stretch (thanks to a 1-0 win as Virgil van Dijk scored the lone goal in Amsterdam) to advance to the semifinal round.
UEFA Nations Leagues B, C, and D also have drama built into the final days as Ukraine and Scotland are jockeying for promotion in B1; Russia’s punishment has left B2 promotion open to Israel, Iceland, and Albania. B4 sees Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard, and Norway fighting to join League A for the next cycle.
There’s also drama as Kazakhstan and Georgia currently lead their League C groups, with Latvia and Estonia in League D’s best spots.