Maybe this is a sign the US national team has matured: While much of America celebrated advancement to the World Cup knockout stage, Michael Bradley thinks the accomplishment has to be viewed with perspective.
‘‘It’s something to be proud of, getting out of the group, especially given how difficult it was, but we want more,’’ the 26-year-old midfielder said Saturday. ‘‘There’s no feeling of satisfaction at the moment. We want to be here for another few games. We want to continue to push and push and see how far we can take this.’’
In the knockout phase of consecutive World Cups for the first time, the Americans play Belgium on Tuesday and hope to meet Argentina or Switzerland in a quarterfinal. Bradley said the US is proud to have survived a first-round group that included second-ranked Germany, fourth-ranked Portugal, and nemesis Ghana. But he also concludes ‘‘it’s not anything yet.’’
‘‘You get to this point in the tournament and you understand that to keep it going and to take it even further, every guy has to find more,’’ he said. ‘‘Every guy has to look at himself and physically find more to give, mentally be that much sharper.’’
Bradley hasn’t scored any goals and has had some heavy touches in Brazil. But the son of former US coach Bob Bradley has been the tournament’s Energizer Bunny. He covered a World Cup-leading 23.6 miles during the first round. Asked whether he realized he’d nearly run a marathon in Brazil, Bradley offered a quick ‘‘Ha!’’ and hustled to a practice field.
His box-to-box efforts have made him a fan favorite, although the drop in his performance as he’s been pushed higher up the field at the World Cup has led to some criticism but not from the person whose opinion matters most.
‘‘I am very, very satisfied with Michael in this tournament so far,’’ US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. ‘‘I know that he has another gear in him.’’
Bradley acknowledged after the opening 2-1 win over Ghana that he can play better. He was in more dangerous positions in the second match against Portugal, but he gave up the ball to Eder late in stoppage time, starting the sequence that led to Portugal’s equalizer in a 2-2 draw.
‘‘We came through this group because of his influence on the field,’’ Klinsmann said. ‘‘We know that players have not reached their highest spot yet. He is one of them, but overall I am very, very happy with him. He has covered so much ground. He is all over the place. The defensive work that Michael puts in is absolutely outstanding.’’
Altidore takes it slow
Jozy Altidore has trained on his own again, an indication the injured forward isn’t likely to start for the United States against Belgium.
Altidore hasn’t played since straining his left hamstring in the opener against Ghana on June 16.
He joined teammates Saturday to applaud equipment manager Jesse Bignami for his birthday, then broke off to jog around the fields at the Sao Paulo Futebol Clube training complex with fitness coach Masa Sakihana as the rest of the Americans warmed up.
Waiting on Hazard
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was sure about two things coming into the World Cup: A single action can turn a match, and Eden Hazard can produce that single decisive action.
Already among the most talented players on the ball in Europe, much was expected of the 23-year-old Belgian playmaker at the World Cup. But so far he has received mixed reviews.
Yes, he has been decisive in the two matches he started, twice providing the assist that qualified Belgium with a game to spare.
And when he came on with a few minutes to play in the 1-0 win over South Korea, he also proved how effective he can be with his feints and fakes, fabulous dribbles and fearsome shots.
But he has also failed to the lift pressure on a harried defense for much of his games. Still, Wilmots realizes Belgium needs Hazard.
‘‘A whole campaign can turn on one action, one incident,’’ Wilmots said.
And he wants Hazard to provide it, even if he appears to be struggling in the match.
Twice, it seemed that Hazard was having lackluster games when the opposition still had wind.
But during the 2-1 victory over Algeria, it was a pinpoint pass to Dries Mertens that set the winger up for a shot that won the game. Against Russia, it was a move on the left into the penalty area and a perfect pass to Divock Origi that made the difference in a 1-0 game.
Pitch for unity
A group of French-speaking fans were looking for a cab to go to Belgium’s World Cup game. Coming from the other direction on the famed Avenida Paulista, Flemish-speaking fans were loudly looking for lunch. They crossed each other, listened — looked at one another’s Belgian red shirts, and suddenly it was high fives and thumbs up.
It was the sporting spirit of Sao Paulo, which is all too rarely the political spirit of the Belgian capital Brussels.
For a country in the political throes of separatism, the World Cup is providing almost a surreal glue of unity. When Belgium’s motto ‘‘L’Union fait la force — union makes strength,’’ is increasingly turned into ‘‘L’Union fait la farce — Unity is the joke,’’ the performance of the national team is lost on no one — in Brazil or at home.
‘‘My players will give everything for Belgium,’’ said Wilmots, a former senator who has defended the concept of a united nation.
While the Belgian political arena is carefully divided down to the last parliamentary seat among the 6.5 million Dutch-speakers from northern Flanders and 4.5 million Francophones from the south, the national team is a mix of languages where a tally of how many Flemings and Francophones has become a thing of the past.