KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Jurgen Klinsmann considers his next match in the World Cup finals as “a wonderful moment to enjoy.”
That is the talk of a man riding the crest of wave since this particular ‘next match’ for the United States coach is against Germany, the country of his birth, upbringing, and 38 goals in 80 internationals including World Cup glory in 1990 and Euro success in 1994.
On top of all that Klinsmann was also the team manager when the Germans finished third in 2006, their most successful ranking at the pinnacle of the game since his own playing days.
The Estadio Pernambuco in Recife is the stage on which even more than sentiment will be at play. Klinsmann’s United States face Germany – managed by his old No2 and Joachin Löw – with places in the knockout stage of the World Cup at stake.
The horizon looks plain. Germans and Americans both have four points and need one apiece to guarantee progress. Victory for either would secure top spot in their mini-league and leave the other at the mercy of the result of the other game, between Ghana and Portugal.
Complicating the view is the fact that five of Klinsmann’s squad may be considered German-Americans – or perhaps American-Germans, considering that they will stand to proudest and straightest to the Star-Spangled Banner.
Talk about the ‘convenience’ of a draw has swirled in the air because the Germans cannot escape the poisoned legacy of the memory of 1982 when West Germany – in the days before the fall of the Wall – connived with Austria at a World Cup first round result which suited both of them to the exclusion of Algeria.
This match may end all-square but it will not be for want of pursuing a victory on either side. Germany need to regain momentum for the sake of their World Cup-winning ambition and the Americans are playing for the entire burgeoning reputation of soccer back home and around the world.
The US have competed at the last seven World Cups with a best-placed quarter-final status from 2002 in Japan and South Korea.
They also rank 13 in the world – after only eight other survivors at this World Cup – and boast a massive youth development movement which may surprise foreign fans by the David Beckham-styled hoopla which presented a denigrating image and unfair image of American soccer (Note: The word ‘soccer’ is not an American creation but a 19th-century English contraction for association football – so even here tradition burns deep in the US game).
Klinsmann sees Recife as something close to a dream match but he will not have mixed emotions even though his families both both sides of the Atlantic will be rooting in different directions.
He says: “We [the US] have done tremendous work over the last three years and prepared for this World Cup in a very detailed way. We feel confident. We did our homework.
“Some people may be surprised by our results. We are by no means underdogs at this tournament but this is the biggest hurdle and we are looking forward to the game. Every player wants to be on the pitch and every fan wants to be in the stadium.
“We want to come out very aggressive and give Germany a real battle.”
His own pride in the soccer revolution bubbles out.
“These are great times soccer in the US,” he says. “In every corner of the country the game is growing. There is tremendous attention on us in our country.
“None of the German-American players will think about their roots. It’s part of globalisation that we grow up in all over the world. I want the players to come in and give everything they have, as they did against Ghana and Portugal – to give the extra mile and tremendous energy and positive determination and we will get a result.”
Events in this marvellous dramatic World Cup thus far have only fuelled Klinsmann’s confidence.
He says: “We are well capable to beat Germany. Without being over-confident it’s possible. It’s do-able. As you’ve seen this World Cup is full of surprises. We want to be one of those surprises.”
Klinsmann played a leading role in revolutionising the German national team set-up a decade ago and the pride still shines through. It’s personal even. The man he picked as No2 back then, Joachim Löw, has managed Germany ever since Klismann quit after the 2006 World Cup.
They remain close friends even if a mutually-agreed communications silence has existed over the past few days.
Klinsmann recalls: “We had a partnership between 2004 to 2006, we think alike, we come from the same region and we have always stayed in contact.
“Now, obviously, Jogi is doing the best he can do and I am doing the best I can so we leave phone calls and text messages out of the way for a couple of days and get the job done. In three weeks’ time we’ll be back on the phone, visiting our families and so on.”
Pride of performance
Perhaps a mildly patronising hint crept in as Klinsmann recalled their work with Germany, betraying an emotional connection to his homeland which his American accent and vocabulary disguise.
He says: “What Jogi’s done is outstanding – to develop a team with confident, high-paced football. It’s been fun to watch the Germany side since these last years and I’m proud of what he’s done.
“Germany are one of the three or four teams in this World Cup who have the potential to win it. We don’t claim that for us. We want to be a team that goes from game to game and gets results but Germany stays strong in believing that they are going to go into the final four and I wish them only the best.”
In the meantime, win or lose or (hopefully not) draw, “I hope it’s a beautiful game and everyone will enjoy it.”