Tim Howard examines Belgium attack

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard says Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku is capable of breaking out of his scoring slump at any time as the Americans prepare for an opponent he called "super talented."

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Howard and Lukaku were teammates at Everton this past season, when the 21-year-old forward scored 15 goals in 31 appearances for the Premier League club. But Lukaku has yet to score for Belgium at the World Cup.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots even chose to replace Lukaku before the hour mark in both of their first two matches, and he sat out their final group stage game against South Korea in favour of another Everton forward, Kevin Mirallis.

But Howard wouldn't put too much stock in Lukaku's apparent struggles.

"People have been telling me, [but] I have not read too much of anything," Howard said. "I've seen some of the games, but Romelu was brilliant for us at Everton. He went through a spell at one point where he wasn't scoring every game, and all of a sudden he caught fire again. So I wouldn't read too much into that."

In addition to playing with Lukaku and Mirallis, Howard also spent five years as a teammate of Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who left Everton for Manchester United this past summer.

As for using some inside information on the Belgium players he will face on Tuesday, Howard says that road goes both ways.

"I hope the knowledge helps. They have inside knowledge on me too," Howard says. "I have not spoken to them. I will speak to them between now and whenever the game is -- I've lost track of days, guys, Tuesday -- I'll speak to those guys, and it'll be great to see them before the game. Then it'll be time to rock and roll."

Belgium are not as highly rated as Germany, the Americans' final opponent from the group stage, but Howard says the U.S. should be equally wary of their attack.

"I think they're very similar to Germany in that regard, minus Romelu, who's more of a target forward," Howard said. "They're just super talented. You know, they get on the ball, they don't really hold their position too much, which creates problems. When a left winger comes inside, the right winger comes inside, it causes a little bit of chaos.

"And they're so talented, so we'll have to have a good starting base defensively, but I also think we can do a better job pressing the ball in situations and recognizing what those triggers are. Because you can't press the whole game, but you also can't sit in the whole game. So there's a little bit of balance, and I think against Germany we could have gotten that right, so we'll try and do that."

Although Thomas Muller played a false No. 9 for Germany -- often dropping into midfield -- Lukaku plays as a hold-up striker, much like the United States' injured forward Jozy Altidore. American defender Omar Gonzalez said he's prepared for the change in tactics.

"With a guy like Lukaku up top, he is going to want to hold the ball and play people in," Gonzalez said. "So we have got to make sure that we follow our runners, we've got to keep our head on a swivel, and we've got to get around them. Because against Germany I felt like we were a bit too slow to get around the ball and get tackles in. So we have got to make sure to get into the game a bit quicker."

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