SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Truth be told, the United States should have played Belgium already in Brazil. Set to take place on the day of the 2014 FIFA World Cup’s opening game, the teams had a closed-door scrimmage scheduled to take place at the training ground of São Paulo FC, the USA's home base for the tournament. At that point, the informal test was to be the last opportunity for both sets of coaches to evaluate their squads in a game-like situation before their respective openers.
Then, according to the Belgian federation, São Paulo traffic struck. What would otherwise be a simple jaunt across town turned into a potential multi-hour bus ride for the Belgians, thus Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots called off the arrangement.
However, there's no canceling Tuesday's tilt. The United States will meet Belgium in the Round of 16 in Salvador on Tuesday.
"I think either way it doesn't matter if we had the scrimmage. I mean, we know their team. We played them twice in the last three years," U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the media on Friday. "You watch all of their games, you analyze it, it’s all done already by all the scouting team. They have everything laid out for the players already in detail about every Belgium player. So we are very familiar with this very strong team."
The U.S. will also be familiar with a number of other teams in their same position. Of the 16 teams to make the second round of the World Cup after a wild group stage, the United States has played seven of them since Klinsmann was hired as head coach. In that time, the U.S. has played 16 games against those 2014 second-round competitors. That includes two against Belgium, and nine against fellow CONCACAF sides that surprised at Brazil in making it to the second round: Costa Rica and Mexico.
"It makes us all proud seeing the Ticos going through as the winner of their group; Mexico is playing outstanding and we want to follow this whole trend, obviously," Klinsmann said. "To be honest, I know people, how they look from Europe over to our region; there isn't that level of respect there that we would like to have, so with these results now, things are changing."
A big part of that success could come down to simple confidence. Costa Rica played without fear and advanced from a group that included 2010 semifinalist Uruguay and 2006 champion Italy. Mexico was equally impressive and advanced along with the host nation. Few gave the U.S. a chance to progress from the tournament’s so-called “Group of Death,” yet that’s exactly what they accomplished.
Now, says Klinsmann, is the time for the U.S. to put their experience against the top sides to work against one with whom they are quite familiar.
“We have absolutely no fear at all,” he said. “We believe we have built a foundation in our team that we are able to beat them, and we’re looking forward to it.”