Attacking: Each team managed just four goals in group play with all of Belgium’s scores coming in the final 20 minutes of its games. Belgium, though underperforming, still has been more active and more balanced in its attack, averaging four more shots per game than the U.S. and spreading its scoring among four players. Much was expected of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, but they’ve been nonfactors here, taking just four shots combined. If they get on track, Belgium could be dangerous. On the other side, the U.S. attack is statistically the worst in the World Cup. If striker Jozy Altidore, who has played just 21 minutes, can go in his return from a strained hamstring, that could help a team that has relied primarily on Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones. Those two have combined for three of their team’s four goals and 12 of its 27 shots. Edge: Belgium.
Defending: Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois, arguably among the best goalkeepers in the world, has given up just one goal — on a penalty kick less than 30 minutes into the opening game. Since then he has been perfect. And in front of him, in central defense, Belgium hopes to get back the imposing Vincent Kompany, the team captain who missed Belgium’s group-play final with a groin issue. If Kompany can’t play, Belgium’s defense — already without Thomas Vermaelen and Anthony Vanden Borre — becomes far less formidable. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard has been solid, making five saves against Germany and four — many of them acrobatic ones — against Portugal. His defenders have been less reliable, though, leading to far too many easy chances. Omar Gonzalez’s return to the lineup against Germany has helped stabilize that back line. Edge: Belgium.
Bench: Three of Belgium’s four goals have come off the bench while the Americans’ deciding goal in their only victory came from second-half substitute John Brooks. Belgium’s bench is deeper and more experienced, although it’s been weakened by injuries to the back line. The U.S. sideline features four players with fewer than 10 international caps. Edge: Belgium.
Coaching: Juergen Klinsmann has made very few mistakes in this tournament — in fact he has been so good one player has credited his success to the sprinkling of magic “Klinsmann Dust.” A master motivator, Klinsmann also has his players believing they’re a team of destiny and that has allowed the team to perform better than the sums of its parts. Belgium’s Marc Wilmots, with more talent at his disposal, has been anything but magical. His team, a dark-horse contender for the title coming in, has struggled to find cohesiveness, leaving it to rely on rare moments of individual brilliance to get by. Against the U.S., by far the best team Belgium will have faced in Brazil, that may not be enough. If the U.S. is to have a chance, it will have to rely heavily on things that are hard to measure: intangibles, heart, team spirit. Edge: U.S.
Prediction: Belgium 1-0.