Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
RECIFE, Brazil — World Cup games are almost always significant for the players and coaches involved in them.
For U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and a few of his players, Thursday’s match will be even more special.
When the U.S. and Germany face off in their all-important and final Group G tilt at Arena Pernambuco on Thursday afternoon, Klinsmann and a number of his players will be going up against their birth nation. There is already much at stake with neither team having yet secured a place in the Round of 16, but Klinsmann and German-American players like Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson will have even more on their minds while they undoubtedly experience a range of emotions.
That is especially the case for Klinsmann, the 49-year-old German who played for and won a World Cup with Die Mannschaft before becoming its head coach ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Klinsmann led Germany to a memorable third-place finish at that tournament before moving on with his career, but his impact on the program still remains as his former assistant coach, Jogi Low, is currently at the helm of Germany.
Klinsmann and Low have already faced off once before in their careers, as the U.S. hosted and beat a reserve Germany squad, 4-3, last June. But that was a friendly and it will likely pale in comparison to Thursday’s game on soccer’s grandest stage.
“It’s very special. It’s something that doesn’t happen every year and probably not anymore in the lifetime, so you try to enjoy this moment.” said Klinsmann. ”I’m looking forward to seeing all of them. The staff is pretty much the same as I left it when I stepped out in 2006. It’s going to be emotional – there’s no doubt about it - but I also will enjoy it.
“I always said their team is ready to take it to the end of the tournament and they have enough potential to win this World Cup. It obviously gives it more attention, because both are not yet moving to the knockout stage. But now also kind of always when there is a special moment (that) comes up like this, I let it go and in a certain moment I want to enjoy it too.”
Klinsmann added that he will also give his former colleagues warm embraces before the match, but that it’s then down to business. After all, the U.S. still needs a result in order to ensure that it moves on to the Round of 16 after conceding a late goal to Portugal in Sunday’s thrilling 2-2 draw in Manaus.
The German-American players are keen on getting that result for the U.S., but they know they will have to battle their emotions as well as the Germans in order to do so.
“I always say that I’m proud of both countries,” said Jones, who played for Germany in three friendlies before filing a one-time switch to represent the U.S. in 2010. ”I grew up in Germany and they gave me a lot. That’s where I had my first steps, I played there my first games in my first leagues, I played for Germany - so I can’t say bad stuff - (and) Jogi Low gave me the chance to play for Germany.
“It’s one of the biggest football countries in the world, so it’s tough to play (against) this country but I have my games. I am still proud too when I hear the anthem from the United States. I will close my eyes and let it all go through and then will play my game.”
As emotional as the match might be for them, the German-Americans and Klinsmann’s main focus is on beating – not drawing - Germany and moving on in the tournament. A tie would send both teams through, but the Americans want the full three points.
Achieving that goal could eliminate Germany from the competition, but it doesn’t matter to the German-Americans because on Thursday they will be representing the United States.
“We will try everything to win this game,” said Jones. ”We don’t go into this game and say maybe a draw happens (and) it will be enough. We want to go there and show people that we can battle and we can beat the German team.”