The United States gets its third consecutive European team today in Salvador, Brazil, when tackling Belgium in the knockout stage of the World Cup. The Americans won't be favored against the world's 11th-ranked team, a young and talented group that includes 11 from the English Premier League. But the United States already has held its own against Germany and Portugal. So what's another Euro power? Elliott Almond breaks down the game's important components:

The stakes

Belgium: The Red Devils have their best chance in decades to challenge for the world championship after failing to qualify for the previous two World Cups. They won all three group games by one goal and allowed one score, by penalty kick.

United States: The Americans are trying to reach the quarterfinals for the second time in history, the first in 12 years. They finished the so-called Group of Death 1-1-1 but easily could have been 2-0-1.

The offense

United States: The Americans have labored offensively with frontman Jozy Altidore sidelined by a hamstring muscle strain. He is available for the first time in three games. It's doubtful the Sunderland striker would start Tuesday, leaving coach Jurgen Klinsmann with an anemic 4-2-3-1 formation, featuring Clint Dempsey as the lone striker. Like the Belgians, the Americans scored four goals so far. The Americans have been outshot 54-27 in three matches, and along with Costa Rica are among the worst in overall attacks.


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Belgium: Considering all the talent, it has been surprising to see the Red Devils net only four goals, three by substitutes. Belgium has played in one of the weakest groups with Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Coach Marc Wilmots is expected to start Romelu Lukaku, who scored 16 goals in 31 games for Everton while on loan last season, after benching him in the final group game. Wilmots employs a 4-3-3 formation that flows through attacking midfielders Eden Hazard (Chelsea) and Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United). They look to feed Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg) and Kevin Mirallas (Everton) in what has become a Spain-like possession game. According to FIFA statistics, Belgium has generated 136 attacks, twice as many as the United States.

The defense

United States: Klinsmann wants his back line to play higher to link with the midfield. But it's not easy to do when playing against some of the world's best offensive players. Belgium could present a nightmare by controlling the midfield and then finding space on both flanks. The American defenders need to keep Belgium away from the penalty area.

Belgium: For all the talk about the Red Devils' stylish attack, they are successful because of a stalwart defense. Belgium allowed only four goals in 10 UEFA qualifying games. It has given up one goal in Brazil on a penalty kick. Belgium relies on strong central defenders as well as the holding midfielders. But the team doesn't have natural fullbacks, considered its weakness.

The goalkeepers

Tim Howard (above right): The 6-foot-3 Everton keeper probably needs to have another big game for his team to advance. Howard is expected to make his eighth World Cup start for a U.S. goalkeeper record. He has been the Americans' main keeper since 2007 and is playing in his third World Cup.

Thibaut Courtois (above left): The 6-6 keeper for Atletico Madrid is considered one of the world's best. He is the only goalkeeper to not allow a goal in Brazil during the run of play and earned his 101st shutout against Korea. Belgium has never lost in the 20 games in which Courtois has played.

The injuries

Belgium: Left back Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) is out. Central defender Vincent Kompany (groin) and Anthony Vanden Borre (broken fibula) are questionable. Kompany is regarded as one of the world's best defenders.

United States: American officials announced Monday that forward Jozy Altidore is available after missing the past two games because of a hamstring muscle strain.

The local boys

Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski (above) said Monday from Salvador, Brazil, that the Americans have something special in store for Belgium. Playing more aggressively "is where our mindset is right now," he said. "The game plan is a special one. It is a bit more offensive. We hope to catch them on the counterattacks."

Wondo's club teammate Clarence Goodson said there is nothing to fear in Belgium, a team he has faced twice in the past four years.

"The biggest thing is not to give that team too much respect," Goodson said Monday. "They're a good team, but they haven't won anything. They made it out of their group, but they weren't that dynamic, they weren't that strong, they weren't that scary in that group. That was very much one of the weakest groups in the World Cup." Goodson was one of the last players Klinsmann cut last month.