The game begins at 4 p.m. Eastern time in the Arena Fonte Nova in the city of Salvador. History is on the side of the Belgians, who lead the all-time series against the U.S. 4-1-0. (The U.S. victory came in the only World Cup game between the teams: a 3-0 win in the inaugural World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay.)
Here’s what you need to know about the final World Cup second-round game:
1. Jozy Altidore Is Back From Injury For the U.S.
Despite not having a good season with Sunderland in the English Premiere League, Altidore was seen as a key part of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach.
We don’t know how much he can play because we’ll have to see how he’s going. But he’s available. This is what we want, this is what we hoped for. This is what the medical staff has been hoping for since the injury on him. They’ve done a tremendous job, they’ve worked day and night with Jozy. Just having him with us is huge. How many minutes can he play? We’ll see that during the game.
Altidore has only just rejoined training with his team mates, so a starting place is unlikely, but he’ll present Klinsmann with a great option coming off the bench.
2. Jurgen Klinsmann Is Not Happy With FIFA’s Choice of Referee
Algerian whistleblower Djamel Haimoudi has been chosen by FIFA to ref the Round of 16 game. This is not sitting well with the U.S. camp. In his press conference the day before the game, Klinsmann said:
We know that he took two games so far and he did them very well. So we wish that he continues refereeing in the perfect way he has done so far. But is it a good feeling that we have? No. Because he’s coming from the same group with Belgium and Algeria.
He’s able to speak French with their players out in the field, not with ours. And Algeria is a country that we beat at the last World Cup. Sometimes I understand it is difficult for Fifa to choose the right referee for the right games, it’s always tricky, but it is what it is. We give the absolute benefit of the doubt, we respect the decision. We’re going to be spot-on in the game and hope that everything does well.
In his previous two games at the finals, Haimoudi reffed the Netherlands/Australia game and the England/Costa Rica game. Neither of those provided any real officiating talking points. During the media press conference, Klinsmann failed to mention that Algeria is a country that the U.S. has great relations with on a diplomatic level.
3. Vincent Kompany May Miss the Game For Belgium
The team’s inspirational leader, Vincent Kompany, has been struggling with a groin injury since the group stages and Belgian Coach Marc Wilmots has refused to say whether he will make the game. Kompany is the inspirational leader for The Red Devils, so, sportsmanship aside, U.S. fans should be praying that he doesn’t make the game.
The central defender is also coming off a huge season with his club Manchester City where he won the English championship this year. Definitely out of the game is Belgium’s other central defender, Arsenals’s Thomas Vermaelen, who’s suffering from knee trouble.
Despite those injuries, Marc Wilmots was keen to point out that Marouane Fellaini will be fit to play.
4. 16 Million People Are Expected to Watch in the U.S.
According to Forbes, the game won’t attract as many as the 18.2 million who watched the U.S. heroically tie with Portugal. But it should bring in the most viewers of any U.S. World Cup game where the team has played during weekday work hours. The Forbes piece speculates that if the U.S. is up in the game late, the viewership number should inch above 16 million.
5. The Bookies Make the U.S. Slight Underdog
Most betting sites list Belgium as a slight favorite. 19/20 is being offered on the Belgians at Bet 365, with the U.S. going at an average of 3/1 at places like Tote Sport. A tie at the 90-minute mark then falls in at 12/5 at sites such as Paddy Power.
Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is the favorite to score first in this one with odds of 4/1 at Sky Bet being offered. No goalscorer is also high in the betting with odds of 7/1 available at Bet 365. If you’re to believe the betting sites, Clint Dempsey is the USMNT’s best chance of scoring first, he’s being offered at outsider odds of 8/1 at Ladbrokes.