Arena is general manager and coach of the Galaxy and was coach of the U.S. team at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
In a battle between two very determined and organized teams, the United States lost to Germany, 1-0, on Thursday, but the U.S. squad advanced to the round of 16 in the World Cup. Clearly, advancing out of the "Group of Death" is a tremendous accomplishment for the U.S., whose next game is against Belgium in the knockout stage of the tournament Tuesday at 1 p.m. PDT.
The U.S.-Germany game played out as expected. The first half was played at a fast pace. The U.S. attempted to press the Germans, but was no match for their ball possession, player movement and superior talent. On the attacking side of the ball, the U.S. struggled to keep possession. Despite creating a number of good chances, the Germans fell short because of the efforts of goalkeeper Tim Howard and a strong performance out of the U.S. backline, which was led by Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
At halftime, U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann was well aware that Portugal led Ghana, 1-0, and the U.S. was in a great position to advance to the second stage. Therefore, the U.S. probably was instructed to play a safe and conservative second half.
On the German side, the team surprisingly continued to push hard for a goal and succeeded at the 55th minute mark off a stellar strike from Thomas Mueller. Throughout the second half, the Germans dominated possession and created a number of goal scoring opportunities. In the end, the Germans cruised to victory to advance as the top team in Group G and will be playing Algeria in the round of 16.
To date, the U.S. has had a very good World Cup. The U.S. is a fit and competitive team, highlighted by outstanding goalkeeping and defensive organization. In group play, the Americans struggled to keep possession and create attacking chances, and therefore have had to defend for large segments of their games. Despite having issues at the attacking end, they still managed to score four goals in group play.
These deficiencies will be severely tested as they press on and attempt to qualify for the quarterfinals. I would anticipate the U.S. playing much of the same 4-1-4-1 formation and lineup versus Belgium, with the possibility of a new starter for Brad Davis in the midfield.
Belgium went 3-0 in winning Group H. It has one of the best defensive records in the World Cup (one goal against in three games), an outstanding goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois (Athletico Madrid) and an excellent backline highlighted by Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich) and Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal). Playing out of a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Belgians have struggled to score goals (four in three games) and find a good attacking rhythm despite having quality players such as Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Dries Mertens (Napoli) and Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United). Interestingly, all of Belgium's goals have been scored in the last 20 minutes of its games.
Therefore, the USA-Belgium matchup looks to be a low-scoring affair highlighted by elite goalkeepers and organized teams at the defensive end. Last year, Belgium handily defeated the U.S., 4-2, in a friendly played in Cleveland. I believe the U.S. learned a lot from the game and will be very well-prepared this time around, and should embrace the underdog role. On balance, I would give the edge to Belgium. However, I would not be surprised to see this game go into extra time and possibly to penalty kicks.
As we enter the round of 16, the dominance by the European (six) and South American (five) countries in Group Play was expected. The advancement out of group play by Costa Rica, Mexico, Greece and Algeria has been surprising.
At this point, the World Cup has been incredibly entertaining, competitive and somewhat unpredictable. We saw a record number of goals scored in group play, and will likely see lower-scoring games as the tournament advances toward the final game.
The round-of-16 matchups are fascinating: Brazil-Chile, Netherlands-Mexico, Colombia-Uruguay, Greece-Costa Rica, France-Nigeria, Germany-Algeria, Argentina-Switzerland and U.S.-Belgium.
I see Brazil, the Netherlands, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Argentina and Belgium advancing to the quarterfinals.
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