When Team USA line up to belt out a slightly-too-quick version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ they’ll carry the hopes of a nation on their unpadded shoulders.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s pumped-up charges would earn the right to stand alongside legends such as Emilio Estevez in Mighty Ducks 2, and Rocky after he beat big-bad-Russian Dolph Lundgren, who’s actually Swedish, if they can see off Belgium and book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals at 8/5.
Here’s how Uncle Sam would want them to perform another ‘Miracle on Grass’, if he ever existed….
Wheel out the rookies
Klinsmann’s crowd have made it this far without looking particularly impressive, having sneaked a win through sheer endeavour over footballing ability in their opener against Ghana and failing to see off a wretchedly disappointing Portugal side, before losing 1-0 to Germany.
Apart from flying wing-back Fabian Johnson, USA have shown more industry than guile to get this far and will require fresh thinking to find a way past Marc Wilmots’ men.
Johnson’s 20-year-old fellow full-back DeAndre Yedlin has made a marked difference to USA’s attack after coming on in both games, and it may now be time for Klinsmann to introduce the youngster who beat Stars and Stripes legend Landon Donovan to a place in the 23.
Bayern Munchen’s 19-year-old winger Julian Green is yet to start for the Bavarian giants or his country, yet rates a decent bet at 19/4 to score at any time against Belgium.
Why? Because if Belgium begin to get a foothold in the game, which they are expected to, Green is one of the few attacking trump cards Klinsmann has in his deck and would be an unknown quantity for the Red Devils to deal with.
Boots (and ball) on the ground
USA ceded possession over 90 minutes in each of their Group G matches and managed to fire off less than half as many shots as their three opponents on average.
However, they have shown flashes of neat interplay, particularly in the period just before Jermaine Jones’ equaliser against Portugal, when Michael Bradley was unfortunate not to finish of a slick attacking move.
Jones’ long-range efforts will have to become spectacular if the Besiktas man hopes to get past Thibaut Courtois, the 6ft 6in La Liga winning 22-year-old who has only been beaten from the penalty spot in Brazil thus far, so USA have to find a way through their opponents’ defensive lines.
‘You! Get in there and show me some hustle!’
1. To move or act energetically and rapidly
2. To push or force one’s way
This most American of euphemisms is what the USA really excels at, especially in midfield, where Kyle Beckerman and Jones have been kicking up a storm with 13 fouls between them so far.
The former, who has been penalised more times than any other player in the history of MLS, finally picked up a yellow card in his country’s clash with Germany, and while Belgium have had more cautions so far in the tournament, USA are 23/20 favourites to do so in Salvador.
Come in right at the end and steal all the glory
USA may have scored the fastest goal of the tournament so far after 30 seconds in their opener with Ghana, but against Belgium they’re more likely to do a WWII on it and wait until the other side attacks before getting involved.
With that in mind, back Belgium to be leading at half time/USA to win at 40/1, or Klinsmann’s boys to score the most number of goals between the 75th minute and full-time at 9/2.