Ah, crud. Thanks to ESPN’s limitless war chest of tax-sheltered Disney money, the 2014 World Cup has been branded into startling popularity with lamestream Millennials. Now societal norms dictate that you need to be up-to-date on the bloody Algerian national team every time you stop in for a $13 Absinthe-loutely Cinnamon Sazerac at Applebee Corp.’s new speakeasy concept bar in Koreatown.
This is a new America. We like soccer now.
And after tunneling their way out of the Group of Death with a butter knife, America’s fate is to play perhaps the most bizarre team in the entire World Cup: Belgium.
But fear not, young digital native. Our handy explainer journalism brain-dumps will equip you with an arsenal of bar-ready quips and fun factoids to help you extend your interpersonal brand. Here are 7 things you need to know about Belgium:
1. Are they d***s?
You don’t know the half of it. Star winger Eden Hazard is kind of like Cristiano Ronaldo if Ronaldo’s hair gel was secretly replaced with anabolic steroid cream. Hazard plays for Chelsea, which is essentially England’s boy scout camp for raising aggro-lad nincompoops who drive lemoncello Lamborghinis and wear velour boy-band tracksuits with full sincerity. Last year, Chelsea was trailing Swansea late in the second half when the ball rolled out of bounds. When Hazard chased after it, the Swansea ball boy drove on top of the ball like a grenade to waste time. After pathetically attempting to wrestle the ball away from a 16-year-old kid, Hazard gave up and punted the ball boy in the ribs.
To his credit, the ball boy immediately went for the sell job and began seizing violently, which led to the most soccer image in human history — Chelsea’s Demba Ba holding the boy’s head up as if he’d just taken sniper fire to the trachea in a Verdun trench and his life was slowly draining away.
“Tell. Me mum. I love her.”
England being England, everyone blamed the kid, who was cyber-bullied by Chelsea supporters for months for “unsporting behavior.”
2. Which Belgian player that will infuriate me the most?
Like Ronaldo, Hazard has incredible pace on the ball. Also like Ronaldo, he has the tendency to drift out of big matches while flashing highly .gifable stinkfaces. The U.S. will likely try to confine Hazard to the outside by doubling up Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson on his side. The Americans’ biggest worry will be containing Belgian central midfielder and reverse-shrink-Ray’d Chia pet Marouane Fellaini in the air.
This guy is going to drive you up a wall. For such a big fella, the mere graze of a shin pad sends Fellaini into hysterics. On Belgian corner kicks, Fellaini will spend half of the time complaining to the referee that he’s being jostled too roughly and the other half of the time trying to give American goalkeeper Tim Howard a wet willy. He’s the maddening big brother sticking his finger a centimeter from your face screaming I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.
Fellaini also demanded a transfer request to Manchester United last year because, in his own words, female Everton fans were “crawling” for him and it all became too much too handle. “I know I am hot,” Fellaini said. “And I want to move forward one day, but I will finish my Everton contract if they want me to.”
Fellaini made a big money move to Manchester United six months later.
3. Do they flop?
Do they ever! Here’s Belgium's 19-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj stepping on an invisible land mine in an English Premier League game against Newcastle.
And here he is taking sniper fire against West Ham.
And here he is being trampled by wild buffalo against Fulham.
Despicable! Not to get all Chuck Norris-y about the Clint Dempsey broken nose thing, but if Januzaj had taken the same knock, FIFA would’ve had to dispatch a Game of Thrones Maester to perform life-saving emergency sideline experiments on him.
4. What’s their manager like?
Oh, he’s a nice, rational gentleman who goes by the nicknames Das Kampfschwein (“The War Pig”) and The Bull of Dongelberg because of his “insatiable lust for battle.” This Guy Ritchie stock character’s birth name is Marc Wilmots, and his footballing philosophy is essentially that of Snatch’s Brick Top: “Do you know what nemesis means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent, personified in this case by a horrible [fella]. Me.”
Belgium begin their pre-match warm up by signaling to a sellsword in the stands to launch a wildfire-coated arrow into Blackwater Bay. While their run through the group stage was surprisingly sleepy, they’re ideologically compelled to attack and attack with blatant disregard for defensive prudence. This game has the potential to be titillating.
5. Can the USA feasibly win?
Yes, with a caveat: The key is going to be the play of Michael Bradley, the bald behemoth in central midfield. Bradley was the maestro of the USA’s World Cup qualifying campaign, but he was puzzlingly discombobulated during the group stage. Belgium will undoubtedly have most of the possession, so the Americans need someone to orchestrate instant counter-attacks when they win the ball back. That person is Bradley.
If you tune in on Tuesday and see a shiny-headed gentleman in red, white and blue lofting beautiful passes into open green space in the heart of the Belgian defense, the USA has a genuine chance at its first quarterfinals appearance since 2002.
If you tune in and Bradley is re-enacting The Simpsons’ soccer spoof of “He passes … passes back … holds it ... holds it,” then Team America will be going home, and we’ll all be going back to pretending that baseball is a refined, nuanced sport that we have to watch.
Be bold, Bradley. Be a nemesis. And please kick lumps out of Marouane Fellaini.