SAO PAULO – If Jurgen Klinsmann began his tenure hoping to bring an American identity to the United States national team, now it seems he’d rather they adopt a German mentality to the knockout stage.
Rather than be satisfied with advancing out of the Group of Death, Klinsmann emphasized on Friday that the real tournament had just begun. It was the same message the business-as-usual Germans rallied around after disposing of the Americans 1-0 in Recife.
What was good enough against Ghana, Portugal and Germany is no longer up to snuff, according to Klinsmann, and his charges certainly have room to improve against Belgium, which won Group H and has two wins in three years against the US.
“I was definitely not as happy as with the first two games with the performance they had against Germany,” Klinsmann said. “Now, going into knockout games, everyone has to call up his 100 percent for the team. I believe that in our team so far, nobody can claim that he reached his 100 percent yet. This is a very important message to the players, is that now prove it.”
Proving it will indeed prove difficult despite the fact that Belgium have been panned at home for lackadaisical play. They won all three of their group matches against Algeria, Russia and South Korea by a single goal, saving their winners for the 78th minute or later.
They also mopped up the US to the tune of a 4-2 friendly scoreline last summer in Cleveland, so don’t expect the Americans to put much stock in what still amount to three World Cup victories.
“They are full of individual talent, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann said. “So much talent coming through the Belgium system, it’s admirable. We are aware of that.”
So much so that the German threw his lot in with the experts who pegged Belgium as a dark horse before the tournament began. Of course, at the same time, Klinsmann would love nothing more than to cut Marc Wilmots’ run short.
“[Belgium’s] one of kind of the secret favorites in this World Cup because of the players, individual players, that they have,” he said. “We have absolutely no fear at all. We feel like we are in a position now to challenge it. We believe we have built a foundation in our team that we are able to beat them.”
That foundation – built largely around Tim Howard and Matt Besler in defense, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in midfield and Clint Dempsey up top – allowed the US to stifle Ghana and grab a late winner, shut down Cristiano Ronaldo for nearly 95 minutes and limit a rampant German attack to a handful of chances.
“We have enough confidence now going into this game – a very special one, a knockout game – to say we are able to beat them,” Klinsmann said. “But we all know we have to go to our extreme and get 100 percent in each player to make this happen.”