PHILADELPHIA – Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t say whether he’d stick with the same lineup for the third game in a row, but he’ll certainly have that option against Paraguay (7 pm ET; FS1, Univision, UDN) with a spot in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals on the line.
“The whole squad is ready to rock it tomorrow night in Philadelphia,” Klinsmann said during his pregame press conference. “Hopefully the fans are ready too and help us in that big big task. Everybody is fit and healthy.”
The task for the Americans is simple: win and they’re through, perhaps even as group winners should Colombia lose against Costa Rica. Draw, and the job will essentially be done, assuming the Ticos don’t blow out the current Group A leaders. Paraguay, meanwhile, are in a must-win situation. They’ll advance with a win, knocking the US out in the process and ending the hosts’ tournament after three games.
The key, if Copa America Centenario results so far are anything to go on, is scoring first. Through 12 games, as of Friday afternoon, the team that scores first is 11-0-1. It’s not likely to be much different on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, with both the US and Paraguay aware that an early deficit would change the tactical makeup of the match immediately.
“Teams of that caliber, when they score first, they know exactly how to defend. They know how to kill you off with a counter break,” Klinsmann said. “If you get in that situation, it is very difficult, which we experienced with Colombia. Breaking them down when they are 2-0 up is a huge mountain in front of you. It’s still doable. I think we played a very very good second half against [Colombia], but at the end it’s the goals that really matter.
“Similar to the Colombia game, which we said was kind of like a Ghana situation from two years ago, you want to make sure that you start on the right foot. You want to make sure you’re not giving anything away in the first half an hour of the game. You keep on grinding the game until, like we experienced with Ecuador in that friendly, you hit minute 65 or 70. Then we are hungry, we are determined. We can decide that game in the last 20 minutes if it is necessary. You have to be very careful not to go a goal down.”
The US expect Paraguay to push the issue from the start, but even positive performances haven’t netted victories for Los Guaraníes under head coach Ramón Díaz. In 19 games at the helm, the Argentine, who played with Klinsmann at Inter Milan and AS Monaco, has won just three.
Still, Paraguay have reason to believe they can get the job done despite the absence of playmaker Oscar Romero, suspended after seeing red against Colombia. They made it to the semifinals of last year’s Copa America in Chile and fell to hosts Uruguay in the 2011 final despite winning just one game in regulation during the course of both tournaments.
“[Ramón Díaz] is a very very experienced coach, a good friend of mine,” Klinsmann said. “They are not gambling. They have … attacking-minded players that can hurt you any second. That’s in their typical formation that they field. If there are one or two changes, we are prepared for that. They will come out and they will take the game to us as well. They badly want to win this game.
“There is everything to play for. Both teams will go at each other. They deserve a lot of respect from our end, but definitely we don’t fear them. We know that we are in the driver’s seat, and we’re going to do everything possible to get in the quarterfinals now.”