American success at FIFA World Cup lifts sport’s profile

FOOTBALL: Long seen as the poor cousin of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, America's performance in reaching the last 16 at the World Cup in Brazil has seen a surge of interest in the sport back home.

A record 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the US take on Portugal in the group stage, and that mark is expected to be smashed when the team faces Belgium tomorrow morning for a place in the quarter-finals.

And if the confidence of coach Jurgen Klinsmann is any guide, the US team will win over plenty of new fans before the tournament is over.

Defender Omar Gonzalez said Klinsmann had told the players to make sure their family members changed travel plans to ensure they were still in Brazil on July 14, the date of the final.

"Jurgen has been nothing but positive. He's telling us, he's telling our families, to change our flights to July 14th, 15th, because we're going to be here until the very end," the centre-half told Reuters.

Klinsmann's confidence would no doubt have been boosted by injury concerns in the Belgium squad.

Captain Vincent Kompany (groin) and fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) both missed Friday's match against South Korea and are again doubtful for the match against the US. Another defender, Anthony Vanden Borre, was ruled out of the tournament on Friday after a scan revealed a crack in his fibula sustained in the final minutes of the clash with South Korea.

In tomorrow morning's other round of 16 match, Argentina is heavily favoured to move into the quarter-finals at the expense of Switzerland.

Winless in six meetings with Argentina, Switzerland last reached the quarter-finals when it hosted the tournament 60 years ago.

Its main challenge will be shutting down star striker Lionel Messi, who has scored four goals so far in Brazil.

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