Altidore available for U.S., but likely won't start

Associated Press Published:

SALVADOR, Brazil -- Jozy Altidore is available to play for the United States in Tuesday's World Cup second-round game against Belgium, but it does not appear the forward is ready to return to the starting lineup.

Altidore strained his left hamstring in the Americans' opener against Ghana on June 16 and didn't play in their next two games.

"We don't know how much because we need to see how he's going, but he's available," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Monday. "How many minutes? We will see that during the game."

Altidore had been working out on his own, jogging around the field at the Americans' training camp at Sao Paulo Futebol Clube. Klinsmann said he has to determine "how much work is in his legs."

Aron Johannsson replaced Altidore at forward for the remainder of the game against Ghana. But Klinsmann switched from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1 against Portugal and Germany with a fifth midfielder instead of a second forward.

Altidore has 23 goals in 71 international appearances and is the top forward on the American roster.

"Just having him with us tomorrow is huge," Klinsmann said.

TOUGH DEFENSE

Belgium didn't concede a single goal in open play during the group stage. Talk about a hermetic seal. It has Thibaut Courtois, at 22, already one of the top goalkeepers around. He anchored Atletico Madrid to the Spanish league title and also the Champions League final. Playing ahead of him is Vincent Kompany, who led Manchester City to two of the last three Premier League titles. And amazingly at 36, Daniel Van Buyten is still one of the standout defenders at the World Cup.

"KAMPFSCHWEIN" COACH

If you are looking for fighting spirit, coach Marc Wilmots fits the bill. Such was the toughness of his attitude and the challenges he made as a player with Schalke in the Bundesliga, the working class fan base immediately took a liking to him and called him Kampfschwein -- which translates as fighting boar. Now aged 45, that determination survives. As a coach, he goes looking for victories at the World Cup whether they involve beautiful football or not. His team's three one-goal victories have so far proven it to be the right strategy.

EDEN HAZARD

The playmaker has huge expectations to live up to. At 23, he is already among a handful of European players with global appeal. He is now the creative genius at Chelsea and is seeking to emulate that for Belgium at the World Cup. So far, the results have been mixed. He has been decisive in both matches he played in, providing the winning assist late in the game each time, in a 1-0 win over Russia and a 2-1 victory against Algeria. But he has yet to take the mantle of leadership in the team and this is what Wilmots will be looking for against the United States.

SPOILT FOR STRIKERS?

Don't be fooled by the measly four goals from three games, Belgium does have its share of good strikers. Christian Benteke was supposed to be the first choice for Wilmots, but the Aston Villa striker ruptured his Achilles tendon in April. No worries. There's also Romelu Lukaku, the Everton forward. Despite a sterling preparation campaign and key goals in qualifying, he has been a bitter disappointment so far in Brazil. Wilmots went looking for an alternative, and found one. Divock Origi, at 19, has been crucial. He scored the winner against Russia and provided the shot which allowed Jan Vertonghen to tap in the winner against South Korea. Now, Origi is a fan favorite to start against the United States.

MATCH REVISITED

Since Wilmots and his U.S. counterpart Jurgen Klinsmann get on well, the team had planned to play a training match in Sao Paulo just days before the start of their campaigns. The threat of strikes and traffic jams forced Wilmots to reconsider and it was called off at the last moment. Now they meet will meet in Salvador on Tuesday. But this will be anything but a gentle practice match.

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