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Scott Fowler: U.S. World Cup fans may find reason to hate Belgium

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
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An American soccer fan cheers before the start of the match between the United States and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil. The U.S. will play Belgium in Salvador, Monday, June 30.

When your country is playing another country in a big-time sporting event, it is easier to fan the flames if you have a previously established rivalry.

Would the U.S. hockey win over Russia in 1980 be considered such a “Do You Believe In Miracles?” moment if it had come over Switzerland? No way.

Would “Rocky IV” be such a cult classic if Dolph Lundgren’s villainous character was from Canada? No chance.

So now the U.S. is playing Belgium in World Cup soccer Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the sweet 16. Belgium is favored, which won’t surprise anyone who follows soccer but probably surprises a lot of other people.

Wait, the mighty U.S. is supposed to lose to Belgium in something besides a waffle-making contest?

Yes, we are. Belgium isn’t the best team among the 16 that survived group play, but it’s pretty darn good. So to make this more interesting to watch, let’s see what there is to dislike about Belgium.

Hmmm.

OK, I’ve got one. I have a thing about mayonnaise. It is one of the few things in life I can honestly say I hate.

I visited Belgium once on my way somewhere else. It struck me as a fairly bland but pleasant place – the countries surrounding it were much more interesting – except for one horrific detail. Every few hundred yards there was a small food kiosk set up, and what that kiosk sold was french fries slathered – and I mean absolutely coated – with mayonnaise.

People loved them. I tried a batch and almost gagged.

So the Belgians ruin some perfectly good french fries with mayonnaise. That’s one.

They foisted the “actor” Jean-Claude Van Damme upon the world. That’s two.

It’s a boring country compared to a lot of the great European countries. And then there’s annoying Kim Clijsters, the former No. 1 women’s tennis player – oh, wait, she’s not annoying; she’s a nice person.

Then there’s Ingrid Vandebosch, who is Jeff Gordon’s wife and a former model from Belgium. She’s annoying. No, wait – she might be even nicer than Clijsters.

As for the game itself: Belgium has allowed only one goal in three games while going 3-0 (the U.S. went 1-1-1 in pool play). This will be quite a challenge.

Greg Crowley and Terry Shinn are local World Cup groupies. They live in Iredell County, where they have taught in local high schools for decades.

The two have attended six straight World Cups and just returned from Brazil, where they saw three games. The best: Watching the U.S. tie Portugal 2-2 in one of the most thrilling sports events they say they have ever witnessed.

“The Belgium match will be very difficult for the USA,” said Crowley, who coached youth soccer locally for many years. “They have a team loaded with top-notch professional players. … I’m expecting the majority of possession to belong to Belgium.

“We do have two tactics to depend on, though. First is our ability to counter-attack. Our players work like crazy running up and down the field. Second is our ability to keep pounding away late into the second half.”

By then, those watching in Belgium might be deep into their second helping of french fries with mayonnaise. I am going to stick with the Belgian chocolate – and just hope the game itself has more of a plot than a Van Damme flick.

Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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