It may have been nerve-wracking, but here we are. We made it! And good news abounds: several giants of world football have already been knocked-out. The Americans are alive and well. We don’t have to worry about Spain, Italy, England or Portugal – they have all fallen out of contention. Not only is the sky the limit for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men – the coast has never been more clear for travel to the Maracana.
The only remaining giants are Brazil, Netherlands, France, Germany and Argentina – five teams out of the 16 that advanced! It can even be argued that Argentina does not belong with these – beside their one-man wrecking crew, they were not very impressive against Iran (winning 1-0), Bosnia-Herzegovina (2-1 victory) and Nigeria (a tightly-contested shootout). With the way the group stage unfolded, we may just see one or two more giants fall before the quarterfinals.
First up for the United States is Belgium. Stacked with talent, Belgium will be no pushover. But they have been far from impressive this tournament, struggling to get results from their all-star roster. On the other hand, having proved their worth versus Germany, the Red, White and Blue will not be intimidated by this Northern European side. Number 14 Dries Mertens has looked the most venomous for Belgium, creating havoc in and around the box with his lightning speed and glue-like touch. He will be the Americans’ primary assignment in this match. Of course, the heart and soul of their squad (and one of the best players in the world) – Eden Hazard – will be their orchestrator. He is nearly impossible to stop when on his game, but containing him is a possibility. The more goals the U.S. are able to score the better, as this game should not end 0-0 through 90 minutes.
Finishing second in Group G was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the U.S.; the three best teams that remain in their half of the bracket are Netherlands, Costa Rica and Argentina. I already criticized Argentina for not showing much aside from Lionel Messi, and the U.S. showed that they could reel-in his perennial Ballon d’Or competitor: Cristiano Ronaldo. Costa Rica has had a magic run in this tournament, but I expect them to lose in tragic fashion to Greece. That leaves the Netherlands, which would be a monumental task – but would it take anything less to achieve the unimaginable? Getting through Argentina would give us a shot at Arjen Robben, R.V.P. and company to advance to the World Cup Final.
No matter how difficult the quest, if the United States achieve victory over Belgium, they will have qualified for the “Elite Eight” of this World Cup. And regardless of that next opponent, a victory would see them through to the semi finals – the semi finals! The hair stands on my neck just writing this; the American squad has given themselves a chance at making this a reality. A superb coach, a squad with the courage to come from behind, and talent from the front to back give the United States an amazing opportunity to rattle the footballing world. With just a couple victories, starting first with Belgium, the Americans can make history and win their first World Cup. Be united in one voice, and chant: “Go USA!”