The U.S. Men’s National Team successfully made it out of Group G and into the Knockout Round. With the “Group of Death” behind it, the USA now wants to make a deep run in the tournament. Here’s the path the U.S. MNT must take to make the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final at the Estadio de Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 and the teams standing in the way.
Round of 16
How They Got Here: First Place in Group H (vs. Algeria 2-1 W; vs. Russia 1-0 W; vs. Korea Republic 1-0 W)
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Key Players: Eden Hazard (M), Romelu Lukaku (F), Thibaut Courtois (GK), Vincent Company (D)
As we all know by now, the United States will take on Belgium in the round of 16. The Belgians are young and full of talent, highlighted by the bruising Romelu Lukaku and flashy Eden Hazard. Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens provide instant offense off the bench (both have scored in Brazil). The Red Devils have had a penchant for deciding matches late on, as all four of their goals have come at the 70-minute mark or later. Thibaut Courtois is an up-and-coming goalkeeper and has kept opposing teams’ offense under lock and key; the only goal he’s allowed so far was from a penalty kick. Belgium will be yet another formidable opponent for the U.S.
Quarterfinals: Argentina or Switzerland
How They Got Here: First Place in Group F (2-1 vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1-0 vs. Iran, 3-2 vs. Nigeria)
Manager: Alejandro Sabella
Key Players: Lionel Messi (F), Angel di Maria (M), Marcos Rojo (D)
The U.S. already dealt with one of the world’s best in Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and if it wants to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1930, there is a good chance it will have to knock off another living legend in Lionel Messi. He has long been a prolific goal scorer, but struggled to put balls in the back of the net in past World Cups, with just one goal in eight matches prior to the tournament in Brazil. That has changed this time around. The Barcelona talisman is torching defenses, scoring four goals in the group stage, including two game-winners.
How They Got Here: Runner-Up of Group E (2-1 vs. Ecuador, 2-5 vs. France, 3-0 vs. Honduras)
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Key Players: Xherden Shaquiri (F), Fabian Schar (D)
The Swiss are a young and confident bunch. Outside of it match against France, Switzerland has been solid in Brazil, with a late win against Ecuador and Xherden Shaquiri showing he can take over a game with his hat trick against Honduras. Switzerland survived their group and they will not back down to Argentina. The Swiss defense has been its only issue so far, and if the team can shore up its back line, they have a chance to make some noise.
Semifinals: Netherlands or Costa Rica
How They Got Here: First Place in Group B (5-1 vs. Spain, 3-2 vs. Australia, 2-0 vs. Chile)
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Key Players: Arjen Robben (M), Robin van Persie (F), Nigel de Jong (D)
The Netherlands won Group B by pouring in 10 goals (the most of any team in the group stage) and is playing arguably the best soccer out of any team in the tournament. Led by Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie’s three goals apiece, the famed Dutch offense is running on all cylinders. This squad looks hell bent on getting back to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final to redeem its loss to Spain in the 2010 World Cup.
How They Got Here: Winner of Group D (3-1 vs. Uruguay, 2-1 vs. Italy, 0-0 vs. England)
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Key Players: Joel Campbell (F), Bryan Ruiz (M), Oscar Duarte (D)
Costa Rica is another CONCACAF team representing the North and Central American region well in Brazil. The Ticos didn’t listen when everyone said they had no chance in Group D, shocking the world by winning arguably the hardest group in the tournament that contained soccer giants England, Italy and Uruguay. Speedy striker Joel Campbell is troubling opponent backlines, and Bryan Ruiz is making an impact from the midfield by contributing goals offensively. Teams in Group C may have underestimated the Ticos, but if the U.S. MNT faces its regional rival, it will know just what kind of battle it is up against.