Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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The World Cup campaign of the United States came to an end, despite a late push against Belgium. They couldn't create enough chances from their good build-up play, because they relied on crossing as a method for providing the final ball.

The formations

The United States started in a 4-3-3 formation, with Geoff Cameron in midfield. This meant that Matt Besler took his place alongside Omar Gonzalez in the centre of defence.

Belgium started in a 4-3-3 formation; Divock Origi started instead of Romelu Lukaku up front, and Dries Mertens earned a starting place as a result of his good performances in the tournament so far.

The US attacks

The United States attacked like they did against Portugal. Their main process consisted of a winger coming deep towards the centre, while the full-back made an overlapping run. The objective was to give the ball to the full-back, who provided a cross to the middle.

The US started with a midfield trio of Jones, Bradley and Cameron. They rotated positions; at least one of them dropped deep to keep the ball circulating. The United States needed a free midfielder on the ball in order to play it to the on-rushing full-back, plus they needed to keep the ball circulating with low risk passes while the full-backs pushed up to a high enough position in order to carry out the attacking process.

Belgium defended with a half-block, they started the press in midfield, but let the United States centre-backs have the ball. When a US midfielder dropped deep towards the ball, they didn't play it forward with one touch passes - like you would see Dortmund do it - but they either kept it, or played it back to the centre-backs, which is a further sign that their possession in deep areas served the purpose of buying time in order to take up an attacking formation, instead of pulling the Belgian team out of shape.

Sometimes you would see both Bradley and Jones dropping deep, pulling Fellaini and De Bruyne with them. This created a huge space for the wingers to drop into, with only Axel Witsel in it to deal with the movement of the United States. Needless to say, it is impossible for one player to defend such a huge space. You could see Dempsey taking part in the build-up, playing one touch passes to the full-back with his back to goal.

The idea of using the wings in order to get the ball to the final third made a lot of sense. Belgium played with only one deep midfielder - Axel Witsel - who couldn't cover the whole width of the pitch in case a winger didn't track back. With Hazard playing on the left wing, first Johnson, then Yedlin was often isolated one-on-one with Vertonghen. Wilmots identified this weakness, and De Bruyne swapped positions with Hazard during extra time, once Belgium were protecting a lead.

On the other hand, the full-backs played crosses into the box - which was a questionable idea - as Van Buyten and Kompany found it easy to clear them. Bradley and Jones arrived into the box whenever a cross was about to be played in, and Yedlin often cut the ball back to the arriving Jones. This way, the ball came in far from the central defenders to clear. Even though the US might have seemed to control the game, in reality Belgium were in the driving seat; they had the US attacking with a method that did not maximize their chances of scoring, but left open spaces behind on the wings.

Belgian attacks

Belgium were relying on the flair of their attacking midfielders in possession. Hazard was largely taken out of the game, as he was often doubled up in possession by his defender, and Michael Bradley. During counters, Divock Origi drifted to the wings, into the space left open by the full-backs. Belgium's attacks improved considerably when Mirallas came on for Mertens in the 60th minute. Both Hazard and Mirallas played in the middle, the latter worked the channels created by the movement of Origi a lot better than Mertens did, who rarely ventured inside.

Klinsmann brought on Wondolowski for Zusi in the 73rd minute; a central striker replaced a right winger. Jones moved to the left wing, but he spent most of his time inside. The intention was clear: both teams wanted to win the match before it got to extra time.

Extra time

Belgium went two goals ahead during extra time. The first goal was scored after Lukaku pulled to the wing, taking his defender with him. He won the one-on-one, and set up a goal for De Bruyne with an assist. De Bruyne spent the last fifteen minutes of the game on the left wing, while Hazard played as a number ten before being substituted for Chadli.

The United States continued to use their familiar attacking process, but this changed when Green came on for Bedoya. The Bayern München youngster didn't drop deep at all, he played on the shoulder of Alderweireld. One of his cuts inside was picked out by Bradley with a beautiful pass, and resulted in the US goal. The US had nothing to lose, so they switched to an incredibly attacking formation with Dempsey, Wondolowski, Jones, Green, and often both full-backs and Cameron playing in the final third, with Bradley dictating the play. They couldn't find an equaliser, although they gave it all. The US had 51 passes in the final stages of extra time compared to the 14 of Belgium.


All in all, the United States did a good job of getting the ball to the final third, but relying on crosses as the final ball proved to be an unsuccessful strategy. Belgium were toothless for the first parts of the game, but the introduction of Mirallas allowed them to exploit the space in the US defence. Lukaku had plenty of success against a tired defence, pulling defenders out of position in order to make the maximum of his freshness and physicality against the tired defenders. 

I tipped Belgium to make the quarter finals of the tournament, but it is impossible to call if they can advance even further. The thought of Hazard marking Zabaleta must make the Belgians nervous. Marc Wilmots has been keen to rotate his team so far, and I am intrigued to see what he comes up with next.

The US had a far more successful campaign than they could have expected. Klinsmann was given a free pass on this World Cup after seeing the draw. Their open, attacking football made them not only successful, but a very enjoyable team to watch as well. I am going to watch more of their games in the future, and I will even tune in to some Toronto games in order to see the magnificent passing of Michael Bradley.





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