Belgium vs United States comment World Cup 2014: Jurgen Klinsmann has built a team spirit that others can only imagine

Klinsmann has inculcated a playing style recognisable to fans of the British club game

The hardest thing for an international side to do is to play like a club side, with that same unity and cohesion, the ability to attack and defend as one. Even as they went out last night, after two hours of heroic effort, Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States showed that they managed this better than almost anyone else.

Despite the quarter-final line-up, which will include Belgium but not the US, this has been a tournament of overachievers so far, of teams who have found a shared way of playing to take them beyond the limits of their combined individual resources. Costa Rica, who have reached the last eight, are the standard-bearers of these sides but the United States, who produced yet another stirring performance in defeat, have been just as impressive.

That is how the least talented team in Group G got to this stage, managing to scrap their way past Germany, Portugal and Ghana with three admirably cussed, focused performances, just like the one they produced last night.

Klinsmann, who spent much of his playing career in England, has inculcated a playing style recognisable to fans of the British club game.

 

The United States play hard, high up the pitch, snapping into tackles, not holding onto possession for much longer than they need to and moving the ball wide and forward as briskly as possible. They do what any good football team does and play to the strengths of the players that they have.

Tim Howard was imperious in goal for the US Tim Howard was imperious in goal for the US  The approach is not just enjoyable but efficient. It has produced more from his players than any other approach would and so Klinsmann took it with him to Salvador last night, against a Belgian side with far more talent but far less cohesion.

The United States eventually faded but they gave Belgium one of the contests of the tournament, all relentless pressure from the start. Clint Dempsey had their best chance of the first half after he and Michael Bradley chased the Belgian defence off the ball and forced a save from Thibaut Courtois.

Bradley, playing in an advanced midfield role, typified the approach. He is a not a desperately subtle player but he has run further than anyone else at the tournament, and he charged around last night with unquestionable commitment to his team and his manager, not allowing Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini or even Vincent Kompany a minute to settle and pick their passes.

Dempsey and Bradley are two of the most experienced players – along with DaMarcus Beasley, who was relentless, selfless and energetic at left-back last night.

But the strength of the Klinsmann vision is not just evident in those players who have worked with him for the longest. Every man in his squad buys into his approach, which is more than can be said of some teams in Brazil.

DeAndre Yedlin, the 20-year-old Seattle Sounders right-back, arrived at this World Cup with just a few minutes of international football to his name and yet when he came on for the injured Fabian Johnson he was excellent, tearing down the right flank, crossing to make openings for Dempsey and Graham Zusi, and dealing impeccably with Eden Hazard – a better player than he will ever have faced before – on the Belgian left-wing.

Even as Belgium started to assert themselves – for the fourth match in a row, they needed second-half substitutes to improve, suggesting that Marc Wilmots is incapable of picking the correct first XI – the United States hung on.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler had even more defending to do than they did in the group matches and yet, against a growing Belgian storm, Tim Howard produced one of the goalkeeping performances of the tournament with a dozen saves, many of them excellent.

Howard, immense as he was all game, could do nothing about Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku’s goals in extra-time, and the United States are out, but not many teams in Brazil – including some who have progressed to the quarter-finals – have produced anything as admirable and impressive as this.

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