SAO PAULO – A day after the United States gave CONCACAF its third entrant in the World Cup knockout round, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann joined the chorus of accolades suddenly springing up for the oft-maligned soccer region.
The US, Mexico and Costa Rica are all still standing after the group stage, with both the US and Costa Rica surviving perilous draws and Mexico going toe to toe with host nation Brazil on the way to the Round of 16.
“It’s outstanding,” Klinsmann told reporters on Friday. “To be honest, I know how people from Europe look over at our region, and there’s not that level of respect that we would like to have. So to have these results now, things are changing. People look differently to our region and say, ‘You know what, there’s a lot happening here.’ It’s changing, and hopefully that trend continues.”
Three teams in the final 16 of the World Cup is the most ever for CONACAF, which has drawn its fair share of critics in the past for a lack of parity and a supposedly easy qualifying road to the World Cup. The region was not even allotted three spots at the World Cup until the tournament field expanded to 32 teams in 1998.
But Costa Rica and Mexico both survived this year's group stage without suffering a loss, and the three teams posted a combined record of 5-1-3. The region's fourth entrant, Honduras, went 0-3.
“[Our win] clearly shows that in our region we are getting strong, we deserve the same treatment given to South American confederation and to Europe," Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera said following the team’s 3-1 win over Croatia on June 23. "Four of us came to this tournament, and three of us are moving on to the next round, moving on solidly, and they all see us with more respect.”
Costa Rica face the most favorable draw in the next round, as they take on Greece in Recife on June 29, while Mexico face a far tougher task against the Netherlands in Fortaleza the same day. The US take on Belgium in Salvador on July 1.
If the fates align, Costa Rica and Mexico could face off in an all-CONCACAF quarterfinal match in Salvador on July 5, and the United States could face either team in the semifinals.
“We wish Costa Rica and Mexico only the best,” Klinsmann said. “Until they hit us.”