United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann says attack will be the best form of defence when his American underdogs tackle Belgium for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals. The United States confounded all pre-tournament predictions by battling their way out of a daunting Group G, finishing behind Germany but claiming the runners-up spot ahead of Portugal and Ghana.
Klinsmann acknowledged, however, that his team must improve on last Thursday’s 1-0 defeat by the Germans in Recife if they are to provide another shock by eliminating Belgium, regarded by many as tournament dark horses.
Of particular concern to Klinsmann is his team’s attack. According to FIFA statistics compiled after the completion of the first round, the United States had just 72 attacks in three games — putting them 31st among 32 teams.
Klinsmann says he wants to buck that trend against a Belgium side who may be missing centre-backs Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, both of whom are battling to recover from injuries. “It’s definitely something we learnt out of the Germany game,” Klinsmann said. “We were too deep, especially the first 20 minutes.
“I was screaming my lungs off there to get the back line out and to move the entire unit higher up the field. “So we’ll work on that over the next couple of days in training, to shift the entire game forward and through that put more pressure on the opponent and create more chances. This is really one of our goals. It was good at the other end. We didn’t give away too many chances. But this is something we have to do better, we have to bring up the players higher and create chances.”
‘Prefer to win 1-0’
Klinsmann was criticised by sections of the US media on the eve of the tournament for stating that his side had no realistic chance of success. But since reaching the knockout phase, Klinsmann has changed tack, bullishly telling his players they can go beyond the last 16 and ordering them to change their return flights for the Monday after the July 13 final.
His side will also be playing familiar opposition. In two friendlies in the last three years, Belgium have recorded two victories, winning 1-0 in 2011 before recording a 4-2 success away in May last year. “They are full of individual talent, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann reflected. “We had the opportunity to play them twice in the last two years. Both times they came out as the winning team, but we also believe we can have enough confidence going into this very special knockout game to say we are able to beat them.”
Klinsmann’s Belgian counterpart, Marc Wilmots, meanwhile has shrugged off suggestions that his team have so far failed to contribute to the feast of attacking football being laid on at this World Cup. Three group wins over Algeria, Russia and South Korea were secured with very little flair, but Wilmots is not concerned.
“If you ask whether I’d rather put on a good show and go out at the first stage, or win games 1-0, I prefer to win 1-0,” Wilmots said. “It’s clear — you have to be a realist and playing to the gallery is not the goal.”