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U.S. men's soccer team stays positive despite tough draw for World Cup

Posted On Monday, 9th December 2013
U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey is staying opening-minded about the United States' chances in the World Cup despite the team's unfavorable group draw. (Dennis Grombkowski / Getty Images / June 2, 2013)

U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey is staying opening-minded about the United States’ chances in the World Cup despite the team’s unfavorable group draw. (Dennis Grombkowski / Getty Images / June 2, 2013)

 

By Kevin Baxter

Juergen Klinsmann struggled to put a bright spin on what was clearly a black Friday for U.S. soccer. But his face told the story his words couldn’t.

On most days, the perpetually exuberant Klinsmann looks like a boy who just got a puppy. But after the U.S. team he coaches was drawn into the most difficult four-team group for next summer’s World Cup,  he looked like a boy whose puppy had just been run over.

“Well, I think we hit one of those real big killer groups,” Klinsmann said from the Brazilian beachfront resort of Costa do Sauipe after the U.S. was paired with Germany, Portugal and Ghana in a group from which only two countries can advance. “It is what it is.”

What it is was disappointing, depressing and disheartening for Klinsmann. But it shouldn’t have been surprising because two months ago he predicted it would happen.

The World Cup draw, he complained then, was unbalanced and capricious. With only eight of the 32 teams seeded into the selection process, a team like the U.S., which dominated its regional qualifying tournament, was treated no differently than any other unranked team.

As a result Mexico, twice shut out by the Americans in qualifying before winning a two-leg playoff with lowly New Zealand just to reach Brazil, can be drawn into a relatively easy group, as it was, while the U.S. gets two of the world’s top five teams in Germany and Portugal.

And Mexico’s group, which includes Croatia, Cameroon and Brazil, isn’t even the softest of the eight. The four teams in Group H (Belgium, Algeria, South Korea and Russia) combined to win only two games in the last two World Cups and Group F, headed by Argentina, features three teams (Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria) that haven’t won a World Cup game this century.

Oh, and remember that 15-hour, 6,900-mile trip Mexico made to New Zealand last month as punishment for its dismal qualifying campaign? The U.S. will cover more than 9,000 miles in 10 days in Brazil, including one trip to the Amazon city of Manaus, where the temperature and the humidity will be in the high 80s. The Americans will spend five times as many hours in the air as they will playing games; no other World Cup team will travel as far in group play.

“We’ll deal with it,” Klinsmann said, “with a smile on our face.”

Many of U.S. players parroted Klinsmann, at least publicly.

“The hard part is getting to the World Cup, and that’s something that we have done already,” forward Eddie Johnson said. “We couldn’t have a better opportunity than to play against such amazing countries as Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

“When they say the ‘Group of Death,’ we have to look at ourselves as well. We’re the U.S. national team and if it’s considered the ‘Group of Death’ [because we are a part of it], it shows how far the country has come.”

“You can’t think about ‘Am I the favorite, am I the underdog? What’s it going to be like playing in the heat or with the travel?’ Those are factors that come into it, but at the end of the day both teams have to deal with them. You both deal with the conditions, with injuries, with yellow cards. It’s all part of the World Cup. Anything can happen and anything can happen on a given day.”

There is some cause for optimism, though. The last time the U.S. played Portugal, in the 2002 World Cup, the Europeans were among the favorites to win the title before losing to the Americans, 3-2, in group play. But Cristiano Ronaldo , 17 then, watched that game on television.

Germany, ranked second in the world and, like Portugal 12 years ago, a World Cup favorite, lost once this year, 4-3 to the U.S. in June. But that was a German “B” team featuring only three regulars.

That could make the U.S. opener with Ghana — on paper, the weakest team in the group — key to the U.S. hopes. In the last World Cup it took at least four points to advance out of group play, leaving the Americans needing at least a draw with Ghana to have anything more than a mathematical chance of rising from the “Group of Death.”

How ominous, then, to note it was Ghana that spoiled the last two World Cups for the U.S., each time winning, 2-1, to send the U.S. home, the most recent coming in overtime in the round of 16 in South Africa. Ironically, that might turn out to be the one truly positive thing about the luck of the draw for the U.S. players, who no doubt will spend the next six months with a giant chip on their shoulders and revenge on their minds.

“The memory will still be very fresh of the loss in the round of 16 in 2010,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “I think that will help us more than it will them. We’re a much stronger team than we were, and they’ll know that going into the game. We’ll look to set that result right.”

 

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READERS COMMENTS

  1. Boro says:

    WORDS OF CAUTION TO AKWASI APPIAH
    Finally, the ball is in our court and I think, I agree with AA when he said it all boils down to preparation. What I will like to add though is commitment, stamina, prevention of naivety (concentration at all time) and our technical bench.
    PREPARATION
    Physical
    I think we need to prepare well physically to give us the stamina we need. The members of the BS team should on individual basis begin to work on their stamina so that they can go all out during the tournament should they be selected. The Ghanaian players to avoid any lackadaisical attitudes in each of the 90 minutes they will play.
    Psychology
    Players of the BS team should begin to put it in their minds that they are going out there to win each and every match no matter the pedigree of the opposing teams. I mean “the can do spirit”. The Ghanaian psychologist needs to begin working on the team right now!!!
    TECHNICAL BENCH
    Possible Oppositions
    First of all, with the draws out I think the video analyst should begin to look out for the shortfalls of all the teams we have been paired with and AA work out good strategies to map out these teams like he did to Egypt. He must choose teams with similar strategies for our international friendly games and try these strategies base on the strong and weaknesses of these teams to see how those strategies will work. Going forwards AA should know that there is possibility that the teams we are going to meet might be able to either passes the ball than us or try to catch us on swift counter attacks or surprise us with long passes. There can also be a situation where opposing teams might try to get set pieces in dangerous positions or even cause numerical disadvantage. In the mist of all these in AA’s mind how is he going to map out a strategy to avoid all these problems? For instance, in the return match against Egypt his strategy of swift counter attack did not work well. Although we got a consolation goal through that in the dying minute of the match, I think that strategy was not well executed. How is he going to correct that?
    Concentration
    If I am to remind AA of the 2006 world cup in Germany, we lost to Brazil by three goals. In that match we had more possession of the ball than the Brazilians however; it only took two piercing passes from Ronaldinho which caught our defense flat and sleeping. In fact, such passes threatened our defense throughout that game. How is AA going to prevent such technical disability from happening to this team?
    Lessons learned?
    In our match against Egypt in Kumasi although we won that match 6-1 against Egypt, AA made a basic mistake which when made in the world cup could cause us a red card and therefore numerical disadvantage. This is the foul committed by Rashid Sumaila which caused us the penalty. In the first place I think it was a red card offense and when he escaped what AA should have done was to substitute him. In the big stage like the world cup what the opposing team will do is always try to attack through him to commit another bookable offence. Had RS attracted the red card could BS have won by that margin?
    I must also state that the continuing turning of one of the most skillful players in the team into a defender in the person of Kwadwo Asamoah is not helping the team. He should rather find a player who can do his work at the left back position well to free KA rather than the current approach.
    Ghana’s Group
    With our group for this coming 2014 world cup, I think it is a good group for us, if we really want to go farther than the previous world cups. Unless, we are just there to add to the numbers because it is the toughest of all the groups and if we are able to sail through in this group “Isha Allah” we can be sure of reaching the semis and then to the final. After all, as the saying goes “one need to be better than good in order to compete with the best of the world”
    Wish you well AA.





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