U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann is ready to go regardless of who the USA draws for the World Cup on Friday. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
COSTA DO SAUÍPE, Brazil — On the eve of the draw for World Cup 2014, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t want to land a game in the Amazon, and he wouldn’t mind drawing five-time world champion Brazil in the tournament next June.
In a discussion that hit on a number of topics, Klinsmann said he did not want to draw any first-round games in Manaus, the hot-and-humid city in the Amazon rain forest that’s in a different time zone from the rest of the tournament.
“Everyone wants to avoid Manaus, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann said in the lobby of his hotel. “It’s an unlucky decision to have a location like that in a World Cup, because of the [lengthy] flight, because of the [weather] circumstances there. I think it shouldn’t have been a location for the World Cup.”
Not that Klinsmann is all about avoiding challenges. In fact, he said he’d be happy to draw into Group A and take on Brazil in the tournament opener before the eyes of the world.
“Oh, I would take it,” he said. “I don’t mind any team that we eventually could face.”
It was hard not to feel a little badly for Klinsmann, an international superstar, the moment he arrived around 3 p.m. on Thursday at his hotel. He had flown on a long three-leg trip from Orange County to Dallas to São Paulo to Salvador, and as he stepped into the hotel lobby, a blue U.S. Soccer baseball cap pulled tightly over his forehead, a throng of cameramen surrounded him.
If it were up to Klinsmann, he said, FIFA would just send out a press release with the groups and everyone could save the time and money spent on the trip to Brazil. But he’s still excited about the significance of the draw: It means the World Cup is finally starting to really take shape.
“It’s such a special event because it comes along only every four years, like the Olympics, and you want to grab it, you want to get everything out of it,” he said.
Klinsmann won the World Cup as a player with West Germany in 1990, but his German teams were upset in the quarterfinals in 1994 (by Bulgaria) and in 1998 (by Croatia). He says he learned something in those surprise exits: World Cups can be less about the total overall talent on a team (though that certainly is necessary) than about the chemistry on your team and your tolerance for dealing with adversity.
“I went to three World Cups as a player, and we had by far the best team in ’94 at the World Cup in the U.S.,” he said. “But we screwed it up because of chemistry and private issues with the players … Then the whole tournament is over and you say, ‘S---, we are the only team here who can beat Brazil. And we would have beaten Brazil [the eventual champion] because we would have attacked them! Everybody else defended against Brazil.
“So here was a World Cup that we basically threw out the window. And then in ’98 it was a similar experience for me: There were chemistry issues. It’s a fascinating topic to go into because there are so many little pieces that need to kind of come along and work. England is a good example. They destroy themselves from the inside—and from the outside too with the tabloids and stuff like that. You need a special culture to approach it the right way.”
STRAUS: U.S. wary of tough draw, but foreign sides wary of drawing U.S.
Klinsmann thinks his U.S. players have a good chemistry, not least because they’re good guys and they get along. But he also thinks a good four-week training camp before the World Cup will be essential for taking that mentality to the next level. When he talks about all the little things, he says part of it is about confidence.
“Don’t plan with your family a flight after the Round of 16 [before the tournament],” Klinsmann said. “There’s no booking for it. If you’re out, then you can still find a flight … It’s about going there with the mindset that we’re going to be here for a long run.”
On the field, there’s a big difference between the challenges a team faces in the World Cup and in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
CREDITOR: Altidore nets first EPL goal with Sunderland
“In a World Cup you have to improve every area of the game on the field, if it’s tactically, physically, the transition game, compactness defensively, spreading out right away attacking or movement off the ball, which we always discuss,” he said. “All those elements, those four weeks of preparation [at pre-World Cup camp] will be there for doing all that work. And also preparing them for the circumstances here. Hey guys, we’re going to travel extensively. Things won’t be perfect, if it’s hotels, tickets, family, whatever. Just be prepared for it. If something doesn’t work out the way it should, so be it. No problem. Forget about it and move on.”
In the end, Klinsmann is convinced the U.S. will draw a difficult group on Friday, and that doesn’t bother him.
“All the names you expect to be at the World Cup are pretty much there,” he said. “So there won’t be an easy group. It’s just not happening. I think we’re going to hit a very difficult one, and it’s fine with me, because that’s what the World Cup is about. You have to face the big ones anyway at a certain stage if you want to do well.”
On Friday, Klinsmann and the rest of us will fill in the names on who those “big ones” will be—and the buzz for World Cup 2014 will kick into high gear.