Salvador, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) – The United States did well to emerge from the “Group of Death,” but the Americans are keen on making further waves in the World Cup, starting with Tuesday’s clash with Belgium at the Arena Fonte Nova.
After opening Group G play with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ghana, the Americans looked certain to progress to the knockout round when they carried a one-goal lead into the final minute of stoppage time against Portugal. But a late goal from Silvestre Varela left the U.S. to fight Germany with a spot in the round of 16 at stake.
The Yanks suffered a 1-0 defeat in the finale, but Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana in Group G’s other contest was enough to put the U.S. through to the next round on goal difference.
According to U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, advancing from the toughest group in the World Cup was a great accomplishment, but he does not want the Americans to be satisfied with that feat.
“It’s a great achievement to get out of this group and into the knockout rounds,” Klinsmann said following the defeat to Germany. “It was a difficult game, both physically and mentally, because the knowledge that a draw would be enough was always at the back of our minds. We were a bit too nervous and showed them too much respect at the start but we calmed down as the match wore on. We’ve got a great team and we put in a superb performance. We could have created a few more chances but overall I’m satisfied.
“It was one of the most difficult groups at the tournament. Ghana and Portugal are good teams and Germany are one of the favorites to win the title. We’re still learning and growing as a team. Now everything starts from scratch again because the knockout rounds are very different.”
Klinsmann made waves before the start of the tournament by stating that the United States realistically could not win the World Cup, but he signaled his true ambition for the team by instructing the players to plan for a long stay in Brazil.
“I think if everybody goes to his own personal limit in the context of the team, we’re going to go further in this tournament,” he told reporters. “But you’ve got to realize that moment. So I asked everybody, all the players, to make sure that all their flights are booked after July 13 (the date of the final). That’s just how you have to approach a World Cup, no matter what happens now. You can always change your flights, so start with the end in mind. The end is July 13.
“Every single day we’re going to have on the knockout stage, can we do it? Yes we can. This is now one of the benchmarks. We want to be in the top ten, top 12 of the world one day. So if we want to be there, this is now the moment.”
Belgium should provide a stern test for the Americans, though. The two nations have faced one another twice during Klinsmann’s tenure as U.S. coach with Belgium coming out victorious on both occasions.
But in the World Cup thus far, Belgium has been slightly underwhelming. The Red Devils claimed maximum points from their three matches of the group stage, but the performances have been rather unconvincing.
At many times, Belgium has looked disjointed, as if the immensely talented individuals on the team were playing for themselves.
The Americans, by contrast, have been a well-oiled unit playing off one another both in attack and in defense.
Belgium, strong on paper, coming up against an American side that has been made to grind out results makes Tuesday’s tussle at the Arena Fonte Nova one of the more intriguing clashes of the round of 16.