What to expect from U.S.-Belgium: not much scoring

This video will prepare you for the U.S. national team's next World Cup game, which is against Belgium. You'll sound like an expert to your friends and co-workers. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)

SALVADOR, Brazil — The United States players are bursting with confidence entering today’s game. The Belgium squad is feeling just as good. Here’s what everyone else should feel pretty sure of: It won’t be a high-scoring affair Tuesday when the Americans hit the pitch, hoping to advance to the World Cup’s quarterfinal round.

The game takes place in a scenic coastal city with a picturesque lagoon outside Arena Fonte Nova and good-natured people in every corner of town. The site has seen more World Cup goals than any other host city in the past half-century.

In the first round of play here, teams in Salvador combined to average 5.66 goals per game, more than twice the tournament average, courtesy of Germany thumping Portugal (4-0), the Netherlands smashing Spain (5-1) and France crushing Switzerland (5-2).

Don’t expect to see that kind of scoring Tuesday.

Thanks to a pair of 1-0 games, Belgium reached this stage of the Cup by winning all three of its group stage game, scoring a total of four goals in the process. The United States, meantime, also has just four goals in the tournament, but has shown even less offense. 

Consider this: The United States ranks No. 32 out of 32 teams in this tournament in attacking, according to FIFA’s calculations. They’ve attempted 29 crosses — 12 fewer than the average — and completed just two, which is 10 fewer than the tournament average.

It’s also worth noting that teams tighten up a bit when the stakes are this high. In the 48 group stages games, teams averaged 2.8 goals per match. That figure is down half a goal in the six knockout round games thus far.

“It’s going to be a difficult game,” captain Clint Dempsey said. “In terms of the amount of goals, I couldn’t tell you. But all I can tell you is we’ve prepared the best that we can and we’re excited about the game and like Jurgen [Klinsmann] said, we’re really hungry.”

With the score likely staying low, the odds increase for penalty kicks. Two of the six knockout-stage games thus far have been decided by penalty kicks. This U.S. squad doesn’t have much experience with penalty kicks. It hasn’t seen a game come down to them since the 2005 Gold Cup.

“We are prepared for penalty shootouts,” Klinsmann said. “It doesn’t mean when it happens we’re going to score all five, by the way, but you have to prepare in the best way possible. So you train the top players through that and you talk, obviously, to your goalkeeper through potential penalty takers from the Belgium side. You’re doing your homework as much as you can, as much information you can have. So does Belgium. They do the same thing on us and hopefully we are well prepared and I think we are.”

More on the World Cup:

For U.S., it’s time to stand and deliver

DaMarcus Beasley hopes fourth Cup is a charm

How the U.S. can beat Belgium in Tuesday’s game

France ousts Nigeria to reach quarterfinals

Suarez apologizes for biting Italian defender

U.S.-Belgium watch party in Dupont Circle scuttled by lack of funds

Referee becomes first American to handle a World Cup knockout match

Former Terps Zusi and Gonzalez shine for U.S. at World Cup

Dark horse Belgium has the talent but is relatively untested

Klinsmann says U.S. has ‘absolutely no fear’ entering knockout round

Video: Getting ready for Belgium, the U.S.’s next opponent

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.



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Matt Bonesteel · July 1, 2014

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