Photo by Don Feria/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAO PAULO — Contrary to popular belief, Jurgen Klinsmann does not think that the U.S. Men’s National Team has no chance of winning the World Cup this summer.
He just does not believe that pre-tournament expectations should be placed so high on a team that is still establishing itself in world soccer.
Touching on the comments he made back in December for a New York Times article that was recently published, Klinsmann once again reiterated on Wednesday that the idea that the U.S. should go into Brazil thinking of winning the competition is a misguided one. Instead, he believes the focus should be on making it out of an extremely difficult Group G that includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany and then taking things from there.
“I think for us now talking about winning a World Cup is just not realistic,” said the U.S. head coach before the Americans’ open training session at Sao Paulo FC’s training facility. “If you do it like Greece in 2004, I think that nobody from Greece would have said, ‘We’re going to win the European Championship,’ but they did. At the end of the day, soccer, the beautiful thing is it’s unpredictable. You don’t know what happens. Every game is another step towards the next bigger goal. Once we make it through the group that we’re in, we’re not shying away from anybody.
“But first we’ve got to make it through the group, so let’s stay with our feet on the ground and say, ‘Let’s get that group first done,’ and then the sky is the limit. But before and half-a-year before and even now (a day) before the World Cup starts, to say that we should win the World Cup is just not realistic.”
Klinsmann was also asked about the lack of players on the U.S. roster who played in the UEFA Champions League this past season. Only two players on the Americans’ 23-man World Cup squad – Jermaine Jones and Julian Green – saw time in the prestigious competition, which is a minuscule number when compared to the amount of players that Ghana, Portugal and Germany each had partaking.
Klinsmann did not directly link that fact with why expectations for the U.S. should be lower than perennial World Cup favorites like Germany or Brazil, but admitted that he would like to see more American players playing in the Champions League on a consistent basis so as to further improve the U.S. player pool.
“We’ve talked about that since a couple of years that our wish, our goal is to get as many players as possible one day into the Champions League because that’s on the club level the creme de la creme,” said Klinsmann. “That’s where you want to be so that they have kind of that confidence, that they have that experience to face these players in the biggest clubs in the world. I think we have very special players and now a team that can play there, players that can make it to that level. But right now, the statistics prove that we’re not there yet.
“Hopefully, this is now the stage for our players to prove that they are ready for the next level or another two levels in their careers. There’s no better showcase than a World Cup, so whoever steps on the field, this is now you’re opportunity. Embrace it, give it a smile and give it a go. Then, hopefully we have a lot more experience in our backpockets after the World Cup.”
While Klinsmann may have tried to temper expectations in terms of where the U.S. stands in the world of soccer right now, he also dispelled the popular belief that the Americans are a long shot to make it out of a difficult group-stage campaign that begins with a June 16 clash with Ghana.
Klinsmann may not be thinking about World Cup glory at the moment, but that is because he is focused on the short-term.
“We’re not (underdogs),” said Klinsmann. “We’re going to go in there and take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and then we go back and forth and hopefully the people see an exciting game and us as a winner at the end of the day. Then we go from there.”