U.S.-Belgium World Cup game provides plenty of intrigue
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann raises questions about the referee in Tuesday’s round of 16 game. Jozy Altidore is expected to be available for the Americans.
Special to The Seattle Times
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SALVADOR, Brazil – Even before referee Djamel Haimoudi has made a call, the Algerian already was mired in a controversy 24 hours before kickoff of the United States’ round-of-16 game against Belgium.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Monday expressed concern that the game official might be compromised just a bit for the match at Arena Fonte Nova on Tuesday, given his nationality and language.
“We hope it’s not a concern,” Klinsmann said during a news conference at the stadium. “We know he already did two games so far and he did them very well. We wish he continues his refereeing the perfect way he’s done so far.”
“Is it a good feeling? No, because he’s coming from the same group with Belgium and Algeria,” Klinsmann said. “He is able to speak French with their players on the field, not with us. It’s the country that we beat in the last second of the last World Cup.”
Klinsmann was referring to the U.S.’s 1-0 win over Algeria on Landon Donovan’s dramatic stoppage-time goal at during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
“I understand it is difficult to choose the right referee for the right games,” he said. “It’s always kind of tricky for FIFA. We will give him absolutely the benefit of the doubt.”
When asked about Haimoudi, Belgian coach Marc Wilmots replied: “I never talk to the referee. I don’t think the referees are there to talk. ... Talking about that, it’s finding an excuse before the game.”
The second-round game means much for both teams. The winner will meet the winner of the Argentina-Switzerland match, which will also be played Tuesday.
For the Belgians, it will demonstrate they are indeed one of the best teams in the world after missing the previous two World Cups.
“It is very clear that if we don’t qualify (Tuesday), it will be a failure for us,” midfielder Alex Witsel said. “We have a wonderful team. We should go to the quarterfinals.”
For the Americans, it’s an opportunity to show the rest of the world they have arrived.
“We’re not satisfied,” U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. “We want to go far in this World Cup.”
The Sounders forward added that surviving Group G, which also featured Ghana, Portugal and Germany, did wonders for the Americans’ confidence.
“We also showed our character in those games, fighting to the end,” he said.
In the group stage, results from other matches could help competing teams. Now, teams are on their own. If the match is tied after 90 minutes, two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played. If the game is still deadlocked, penalty kicks will decide which team moves on.
The Americans played their first three games in heat and humidity in the north, whereas the Belgians have played in cooler venues in the south. This game will be farther north than Belgium’s first three games.
“We dealt with every condition during this World Cup,” Dempsey said.
Wilmots didn’t think the heat would favor any one team.
“We should not complain,” he said. “Both teams will be suffering from the heat.”
The U.S. certainly was not complaining when it received encouraging news that striker Jozy Altidore would be available to play. Altidore suffered a strained left hamstring in the 2-1 win over Ghana on June 16.
“We don’t know how much, but he is available,” Klinsmann said. “This is what we want. This is what we hoped for. This is what the medical staff is working (on).”
• The Sounders will host a viewing party at the CenturyLink Field Event Center for Tuesday’s U.S. match. Gates will open at 11 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game. There is no admission charge to the event, which is open to all ages.