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Fresh off of Belgium’s impressive nine-point performance to earn the top spot in Group H, the Red Devils press corps wasted little time in asking manager Marc Wilmots of his thoughts on the USA, their Round of 16 opponent on July 1.
And while he steered most of the attention toward his own squad, Wilmots did have a few thoughts on the US and their escape from the dreaded Group G following their 1-0 loss Tuesday to Germany to earn the runner-up spot and a Tuesday meeting with Belgium in Salvador.
“They had a very challenging group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, not obvious at all, so everybody who has reached the knockout stage has deserved it,” he told the media through a translator following Belgium’s 1-0 victory Thursday over South Korea. “And even though we’re supposed to be the favorite team, we’re used to that.”
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Ranked No. 11 in the latest FIFA rankings, the talented Belgium side came into the World Cup as a dark-horse favorite to win it all and promptly disposed of Algeria, Russia and then the Taeguk Warriors in group play.
But Wilmots said everything changes in the knockout rounds. He said it has nothing to do with which team is playing the most “beautiful football.”
“All matches are characterized by tactics, by physical fitness, it can change everything,” he said. “What is important for me is the end result, to win the match, whatever the style of play. We are here with the best teams on earth, and it’s very difficult. You pay for every mistake.”
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The 45-year-old also joked about the pre-World Cup scrimmage that his side was scheduled to play against the US, a meeting that was canceled for logistical reasons.
“It won’t be as friendly as I thought it would be,” Wilmots said. “This is a new competition.”