Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
MANAUS, Brazil – Jurgen Klinsmann and Jogi Low are friends. They are also competitors.
It did not take long after the U.S. Men’s National Team and Portugal played to an exhilirating 2-2 draw on Sunday night that questions about a potential gentleman’s handshake between the U.S. and Germany began to pour in. A draw is all that is needed for both teams to advance from Group G into the knockout phase of the World Cup, and they play one another in their group finale on Thursday.
Klinsmann killed the notion rather quickly and emphatically, stating repeatedly that he intends to deploy a gameplan that will give the Americans the best chance of picking up three points to add their current four and that there will be no arranged discussions with Low of a playing to a stalement.
“There is no such call,” said Klinsmann at Arena Amazonia. “Jogi is doing his job, we’re good friends, and I do my job. My job is to get everything done to make us go into the Round of 16. That’s what I’m going to do. There’s no time right now to have friendship calls. It’s about business now.”
If the U.S. and Germany were to play to a draw in Recife on Thursday, the Germans would finish first in the group due to goal differential and the Americans would come in second regardless of what happens in the Portugal-Ghana game that will be played simultaneously.
There is the chance, of course, that the outcome of the U.S.-Germany match is a tie. But that would not be because the Americans tried to play for a point or struck a deal with Germany to end on even terms.
No, Klinsmann is fixed on getting the victory that would see the Americans finish atop of what many considered to be the Group of Death and even if it comes at the expense of Germany, who could be knocked out if certain circumstances fall into place.
“I don’t think that we are made for draws really, except if it happens like tonight, goals last second,” said Klinsmann. “I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group. We want to go into this game and recover fast and we go at Germany and get three points and then seven points on our side and then in the driver’s seat for the Round of 16. That is our goal.”
Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati drove that point home by talking about the Americans’ character and never-say-die attitude. They both brought up last year’s road win in World Cup qualifying over Panama, when an already-qualified U.S. side rallied late to eliminate the Panamanians and give Mexico newfound life.
The two U.S. honchos also brought up a 2009 World Cup qualifying draw against Costa Rica, when a U.S. side that already secured passage to the 2010 tournament scored a last-gasp goal to give Honduras a World Cup berth at the expense of the Ticos.
“No we’re not going to have a call between Jogi and Jurgen, (German Football Association president) Wolfgang Niersbache and me or any combination of those people,” said Gulati when asked of the idea of agreeing to play to a draw. “It comes up all the time, but if you were at the game in Washington (D.C.) four years ago … or (in 2013) when we played until the 93rd minute, had nothing to play for other than American mentality, and changed who qualifies for the World Cup because of it.
“We put Mexico through, eventually, and Honduras through, so it’s not the way the U.S. team plays. We’re not going to do that.”
Try as they might, U.S. Soccer officials are still likely to hear more questions regarding a potential deal with Germany to play to a draw in the coming days. Their responses, however, probably won’t change much.
“We have that fighting spirit, we have that energy and determination to do well in every single game,” said Klinsmann. “We’re going to go to Recife very ambitious, with a lot of confidence to beat Germany. This is our goal, and then we’ll see what happens on the field.”