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U.S. v Belgium: A CdT Showdown

In honor of Tuesday's matchup, Bren and Jonas sat down for a tête-à-tête to discuss only the third meeting between their respective homelands, the United States and Belgium.

Matt Sullivan

The World Cup, as you all know, only occurs every four years, and if you didn't know that...I...I don't know what to say, but, thanks to some Cristiano Ronaldo magic keeping the Americans alive, it has presented us with a unique opportunity here at CdT, a U.S. vs Belgium showdown: Belgian waffles vs the McGriddle, delicately refined chocolate vs M&Ms, Jean-Claude Van Damme vs Steven Seagal, Flemish vs Spanglish, Jonas vs Bren.

Since this is such a unique pairing--the two nations have only met three times, 1930, 2011 and 2013 (there was an apparent 80-year-long grudge)--Jonas and I sat down in a NATO style accord to shed a little light on Tuesday's matchup.

Okay, be honest, what do Belgians think about the state of American soccer/football? Are we an actual threat or simply an occasional annoyance?

Jonas: Belgians rarely link US with good and famous football players. True, the last couple of years the MLS has seen its fair share of big names (Henry, Robbie Keane, Beckham and recently Villa, to name a few) but those were washed out guys anyway and no Americans. We still see it as a (no offense) early retirement home for the European stars. Plus, most Belgians still don't know the difference between soccer and football. Ignorance is bliss.

Bren: Hard for me to argue against this one, but the very fact that the MLS is approaching its 20th anniversary is a victory in and of itself. However, with the league expanding into larger markets and nearly every club having a soccer-specific stadium, things are certainly looking up. I don't think the MLS will ever be on par with the European leagues, nor should that be the goal, but I don't think it's outrageous to suggest it could be the best league in the Western Hemisphere, granted this would take a few decades and/or generations of steady development and growth of the sport in general, but there are literally millions of people playing this sport from coast-to-coast, you just have to keep them in actively involved in the sport and hope that a few stars break through.

Belgium's greatest football victory? Worst defeat?

Jonas: The historic 4-3 win in the quarters against the USSR at the WC 1986 is considered one of the greatest wins of our team. Belgium qualified for the semis but got beaten by Maradonna's Argentina. Ironically, the quality of play was as weak as 2014 but they still got far. Belgium's NT arguably played it's best footy in 1990 but surprisingly got eliminated in the group phase. Few people know this but Belgium actually played a final on the international stage once: Euro 1980 against West-Germany. They lost 2-1.

The 2-1 win in Croatia last October, which sealed our WC 2014 qualification, will also be remembered for a long time, considering we were absent from a big tournament for twelve years.

The worst defeat probably is the 0-2 loss against Brazil at WC 2002, after being denied a clear 1-0 goal. Another notable loss is the 2-1 in Armenia in 2009. In 2007 Belgium's NT really reached rock-bottom and were 71th on the FIFA-ranking. We were close to Euro 2012 but a painful 4-4 draw at home against Austria (equaliser in the 94th minute) hurt the entire nation. Now the new generation (1986-1992) has finally stepped up and is being praised worldwide. About frikkin' time.

Bren: America's soccer history isn't quite as long or lustrous, but I'm sure Ronald Reagan was cheering when you took down the Soviet Union. For our part, I would say breaking a 40-year World Cup absence by beating Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for Italy 1990 was a big one, but defeating Portugal in '02 was certainly noteworthy. Taking down Spain 2-0 in the 2009 Confederations Cup was also a huge one, especially since Spain was in the middle of their historic run.

As far as losses are concerned, we'll go back to 2002, when the US was denied a shot at the semifinals by Germany, thanks in part to a handball by Torsten Frings that went miraculously unnoticed.

Oh, and America's first ever World Cup Match....a 3-0 victory over Belgium in 1930. Suck it.

What about this particular matchup, what's the mood like among the Belgian media and fans? What about your chances to win the whole thing?

Jonas: Our media are well aware of the threat. Howard, Bradley or Altidore are no household names here but the typical American fighting spirit and mentality is well-known. They won't go down without a fight and seeing how Belgium's NT got in trouble against Algeria and Russia (and to some extent even South-Korea), the US won't be any different. US and A survived a group with Germany, Ghana and Portugal, that means something. Although they only collected four points, not even half of our total.

Our players are better suited for free-flowing opponents like Brazil or Spain, when there's lots of room and play is quick. They hate it when a team parks the bus or has three CBs guarding an attacker. Belgium's better technically and has players in top leagues but the latter means nothing in this WC (see: Spain, England, Italy). That said, last years friendly (4-2 win in Cleveland) still lingers in our head and I predict 90% of the people here believe in a repeat of that win. So yeah, there's mutual respect but we're already looking forward to a quarter final vs Messi & friends.

Bren: The amount of hype and simple publicity surrounding the US team is like nothing I've ever experienced. The final match in group play against Germany was the most viewed soccer match in US history, so people are riding high and are quite optimistic of our chances against Belgium, which I could also attribute to people's complete ignorance towards your nation; your average US fan knows Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney, Belgians don't even enter the equation. For whatever reason, our traditional inferiority complex isn't present in this matchup, which could bite us in the ass or prove completely justified.

Point being, people aren't overly concerned about victory in this one. That isn't to say, we're expecting a walk over, but a gritty 2-1 victory is entirely plausible, at least that's the feeling I get. I know far more about the Azzurri than the USMNT, but I've literally never seen this much attention being paid to this team or the sport in general, so there's a lot of positive buzz floating around.

You can only pick one player from your national side to bring to Roma, who would you take and why?

Jonas: Tough one. I could opt for obvious choices like Courtois, Kompany, Hazard or Witsel. Types Roma can definitely use. But I think I'd go for Vertonghen, which is a hugely biased choice. I grew up in the same village, I played football with him in elementary school and even interviewed his mother a while ago. He's one year older than me and probably my town's biggest export product to date. Even though he scored the winner against Korea, he's not having a stellar tournament because he's simply no pure LB (but still a lot better than Dodo or Balza). He's ten times the player at CB and I would love to see a partnership Benatia-Vertonghen before I die. Seeing him in a giallorosso shirt would lessen the pain of my lost desire to play for AS Roma one day.

Bren: Hard to argue with any of those choices, I'd welcome any of them in a heartbeat. As far as the American players are concerned, the obvious choice, given the current makeup of Roma, would be Tim Howard (no disrespect to MDS), easily one of the top 10-15 keepers in the world, though I think Clint Dempsey could fare pretty well in Roma. For the future, its hard to argue against Julian Green, sure he's a dual German citizen, but anyone who can play for Munich as a teenager is one I'd welcome to Roma.

Is there any particular American player you think will cause matchup problems on Tuesday?

Jonas: If (Jozy)Altidore plays, then him.  (Jermaine)Jones' tireless running could hurt us as well. But honestly, we'll have to depend on our own strengths instead. That should be enough to pull off a win.

Bren: Even for Americans, it's hard to know what to make of Jozy. He was one of our biggest sales when he went from New York to Villarreal, but his European career has been all over the map, literally and figuratively, but he does have a lot of great tools that make him dangerous in a one-off situation. As far as which Belgians we fear, probably Eden Hazard, because he's the only one people can name.

Who is the Belgian Michael Bradley?

Jonas: There's only one Michael Bradley. But if you insist: Laurent Ciman. Because he's bald and frequently the laughing stock of our NT (he didn't play a single minute during the qualifiers, he's like the seventh choice CB but still got picked)

Bren: You're right, there is only one Michael Bradley.

If I ever venture into a Belgian pub, what should I order? Chimay? Duvel?

Jonas: I prefer the Trappist beer Orval but taste is subjective, of course. There are lots of good quality beers: Chimay, La Chouffe, Duvel, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Malheur... Going to a Belgian pub is like going to a candy shop but for grown-ups. I advise Americans to try them all out. And then order a new stomach while you're at it. I bet you'll use your Duff Beer and Budweiser as dish water afterwards.

Bren: Here is where I burst your bubble, Duff Beer isn't real, sadly that only exists in Springfield. But, when I can spare the dough, I do enjoy a Chimay. For my money, Holland makes the world's best beers, but that's just me. If you ever venture to our shores, we have a host of microbrews that vary from region-to-region, but as far as mainstream beer goes, I'd place Yuengling or Sam Adams at the top of the American beer pecking order. We also have Blue Moon, which is purported to be a Belgian White Ale, yet is made in Colorado, but it goes great with an orange slice.

Who really invented the French Fry?

Jonas: ‘Mr. Fry who was born in France...' C'mon, I'm offended as a Belgian to even answer this question. Everyone knows we have the best fries in the world.

Bren: I'm sure there's a sizeable portion of Americans who would be gobsmacked to learn that French Fries are indeed Belgian, but they are a staple of our diet, so we have some good ones here as well.

With your life on the line, you have to play one match of mixed doubles tennis, who do you pick for a partner, Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin?

Jonas: Easy: Clijsters. Because she's___________ {Real Answer Redacted}

Bren: Umm, yeah, I can't put that in print.

We all know you love Roma, but who do you support in the Belgian league?

Jonas: No one. One love, people, one love. Belgian football just doesn't excite me the way Italian does. I've seen a couple of live games of Waasland-Beveren, a club not far from my place, but it just isn't the same as watching a shady, broken Ukrainian stream of Roma-Bologna or Catania-Roma on a Sunday afternoon. I guess I'm a romantic person.

Bren: I'll have to agree with you on this one, try as I might, I can't seem to capture the same emotion for any MLS team as I do for Roma. I wish I could, but I just cant.