Heading into the U.S.A.'s Round of 16 World Cup match against Belgium at 4 p.m. Eastern, only one thing is certain: Americans need to find more creative ways to be jingoistic.
Waffle House, the restaurant chain visible from interstate highways across the southern U.S., tweeted Monday that it "doesn't believe in Belgian waffles" and called for a boycott, reminiscent of the cries to re-brand French toast as Freedom toast during the second Iraq War. Surely we can whip up a rivalry using something more enraging than breakfast food. Remember, Dr. Evil was Belgian.
As for the action on the pitch, injuries to top players on both teams means neither side can claim a major advantage heading into the match. And while the Belgian side has more proven talent, this Americas-centric World Cup has already shown that what’s proven doesn’t count for much.
The Red Devils, as Belgium's squad is known, don't have the soccer pedigree of many of their European neighbors. They last made the World Cup quarterfinals in 1986 (eventually finishing fourth) and failed to qualify for the tournament in both 2006 and 2010. But coach Marc Wilmots has built a world-class team around stud goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, defensive stalwart Vincent Kompany, and a host of young attacking midfielders and forwards. Belgium breezed through World Cup qualifying in 2013 and played so impressively in the run-up to the tournament that the team entered as the fifth betting favorites.
Though Belgium was one of only three teams to win all three games in the opening round, it helped that they were the seeded team in a powder-puff group: Securing victories against Russia, Algeria, and South Korea is not as impressive as the U.S.'s win-draw-close loss performance in the Group of Death. What is impressive is how the Red Devils wore down each opponent over time, using their depth at midfield and forward to bring on fresh substitutes who overwhelmed their tired foes. In their 2-1 win over Algeria (the other team to advance from Group H) Belgium got late goals from Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens, both of whom came on as second-half subs.