Here at Goal Posts, we pride ourselves on our in-depth analysis of the key match-ups and head-to-head battles that will play out all over the park in each game of this World Cup. Ahead of the epoch-defining Belgium-USA match in the round of 16 (exact number now fewer than 16, owing to teams losing and flying home in tears after FIFA/refereeing conspiracies, etc.), we break down the crucial encounters that will serve to define the future not just of USA sports as a whole, but also the political and cultural future of north-eastern Europe in the form of the country of Belgium, a place where they put mayonnaise on French fries.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois vs. Tim Howard
Thibaut Courtois, who looks suspiciously like the tennis player Novak Djokovic, had a terrible year at Atletico Madrid owing to also playing a full season on clay. Jettisoned on loan to the Spanish club by all-conquering Chelsea, he was unable to prevent Real Madrid from winning the Champions League, making, oh, eight or nine major errors in the final. (His contribution to Atletico's historic La Liga title was also nominal.)
Tim Howard, on the other hand, helped turned his native South Brunswick, NJ, into a destination for all lovers of fine dining and nature walks. As a goalkeeper, he single-handedly saved English Premier League (EPL) side Everton from relegation in each of its last five seasons. Alex Ferguson sold him to Everton from Manchester United because, in the words of the Scot, "He was just too good for us." Current state of hair/beard: inverted.
Center-backs: Vincent Kompany vs. Geoff Cameron
Kompany had just suffered through a torrid season for Manchester City. Sent off against Hull in March, he managed to kung-fu kick the stadium wall, for which he received a lifetime's ban from football that was then lost in the mail and remains pending. City's league victory was achieved only when Kompany was dropped for the final 18 games of the season.
Geoff Cameron also plays in the EPL, for Stoke City, which is like being the person at a dinner party who everyone knows just had a bereavement, thereby curtailing "light conversation." Mostly faultless throughout the group stages, Cameron's sliced clearance gave Portugal a one-nil lead, which of course didn't matter at all, Geoff, did it?
Full-backs: Jan Vertonghen vs. DaMarcus Beasley
Jan Vertonghen plays for Tottenham Hotspur.
DaMarcus Beasley is 62 years old, and has packed much into his Zelig-like existence. Now on his third set of hips, Beasley patrols the right flank of the field like a man who "wants those kids to get off my yard." Was stationed in Ypres on VE Day, so knows all about Belgium, thank-you-very-much.
Midfield Generals: Mousa Dembele vs. Michael Bradley
Mousa Dembele gives the ball away like Stop and Shop gives away coupons. Like Vertonghen, plays for Tottenham Hotspur.
Michael Bradley also gives the ball away like Stop and Shop gives away coupons, but in doing so, he manages to lull opposing teams into a false-true sense of superiority, causing them to attack with too many players, and thereby leaving them prone to the counter attack. Michael Bradley is also an automaton with a faulty wire.
Genius Playmakers: Eden Hazard vs. Jermaine Jones
Eden Hazard is as his name suggests: he who ruined paradise. He's the apple picked by Eve, the knowledge of sin, he is the fall, the end of innocence. That great Jose Mourinho-helmed Chelsea team, for whom he plays, devoted as it is—and as all Mourhino teams are —to all-out attack and entertainment, is brought down to dullness and stupefaction by the horribly selfish, mazy runs of the man who damned human kind for all time.
Jermaine Jones has been a revelation this World Cup. His surging runs from midfield have been curtailed only once, in the USA-Germany game, where he managed to break his own nose by banging into the referee, who signally refused to book himself. He wears six bracelets featuring the names of his wife, Sarah, and their five children: Keanu, Liya-Joelle, Kenyon, Junius, and Jadee-Mae. (Sadly, all the jangling can sometimes give away his position at corners and the like.)
Midfielders/Hair Guys: Marouane Fellaini vs. Kyle Beckerman
Marouane Fellaini is known to all Manchester United fans as "toilet brush" (this may or may not be the only true fact in this preview). The weight of Fellaini's astonishing Afro prevents him from jumping for headers. Is the embodiment of that well-known phrase or saying, "His second touch of the ball is a tackle." Was wholly responsible for Manchester United's worst season since 1992.
Kyle Beckerman's hair is the physical embodiment of a Maori haka, that fierce, pre-rugby match ancestral war cry/dance used to intimidate opponents. Beckerman is famous for having never lost a one-on-one battle in the air, as no one wants a face full of dreadlocks.
Lookers: Adnan Januzaj vs. Graham Zusi
Adnan Januzaj is Manchester United's latest starlet. I won't have a word said against him.
Graham Zusi scored a last-minute goal in qualifying that, though pointless for the prospects of the USA team, just so happened to help Mexico reach the World Cup. Mexicans won't have a word said against him, and neither with the millions who love this beautiful, beautiful man. (Graham Zusi is beautiful.)
Bull-Like Center Forwards: Romelu Lukaku vs. Clint Dempsey
Romelu Lukaku is, like Courtois, exiled from his parent club Chelsea on account of him not being as good as everyone says he is. Not bad running on to a through pass, I suppose, with his back to goal he's the equivalent of a flipper on a pinball machine —the ball careens off in weird directions, never to be seen again. Usually substituted by the fifth or sixth minute.
Clint Dempsey used to play for Tottenham Hotspur, but since his multi-million pound move to Seattle, he has revived his career playing against MLS defenses, aka, the New Orleans levee system. Looks generally really miserable. Has scored a goal, against Portugal, with his junk. Look for him to continue to try to use his genitals when faced with a scoring opportunity (tip your waiter; try the veal).
Managers: Marc Wilmots vs. Jurgen Klinsmann
Marc Wilmots is an avant-garde minimalist composer in the vein of Philip Glass. He is most famous for his score to Peter Greenaway's movie, "The Belly of an Architect." What he's doing running a soccer team is anyone's guess.
Jurgen Klinsmann also once played for Tottenham Hotspur, where his reputation as a "cheating Arjen Robben" was cemented with a series of extraordinary, salmon-on-a-dock like flops in the penalty box. Has rehabilitated himself by filling the USA team with Germans and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games like a newly-liberated Belgian.