U.S. players were still in the locker room after the 2-2 heartbreaker in Manaus on Sunday night, shell-shocked from Portugal’s equalizing goal in the final minute of stoppage time. American fans still hadn’t wiped off their face paint, and already, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was being questioned by reporters — American and German — about a possible conspiracy theory heading into Thursday’s final World Cup group match between USA and Germany in Recife.
The questions were bound to come.
Klinsmann’s U.S. team and the German team he starred for and coached both will qualify for the Round of 16 with a draw on Thursday. That scenario has prompted some fans and media to wonder whether there is any chance Klinsmann and his friend and former assistant, Germany coach Joachim Loew, might make a gentleman’s agreement to tie their match so both teams can advance.
One reporter asked if it might be “another Gijon.’’
Gijon was the city in Spain that hosted the tainted 1982 World Cup match between West Germany and Austria. A low-scoring win for the German team would ensure both teams would advance over Algeria, so they agreed to take it easy after West Germany scored early.
The controversy over that match led to FIFA changing its rules so that the final first-round matches in a group are played simultaneously so neither team can scheme based on the other game’s result.
Klinsmann insisted there will be no collusion.
“I think you’re talking about a game that is decades away that is only part of Germany’s history and not the United States,’’ he said. “We’re not made for ties. The United States is known to give everything they have in every single game. We have that fighting spirit and that energy.
“ So, we’re going to go into Recife very ambitious with a lot of confidence to beat Germany. This is our goal.”
He said they will not play for a tie.
“The message is very simple: We want to beat Germany,’’ Klinsmann said. “We want to be first in our group, so we’re not thinking about a tie.
“We know a tie gets us through too, which if at the end of the day it ends up a tie because it’s an exciting game and a very close game, so be it. But our goal is to beat Germany.’’
The U.S. team, which has four points from a win over Ghana and tie with Portugal, will advance with a win over Germany, a tie with Germany, a Ghana-Portugal tie, or even a loss to Germany if the Americans win the goal differential tiebreaker over the Ghana-Portugal winner. Heading into the final game, the U.S. has a plus-one differential, Ghana has minus-one, and Portugal has minus-four.
Loew told Ghana reporters that he does not plan to speak to Klinsmann during the tournament, other than the perfunctory hellos on the field.
“My relationship with Jurgen is brilliant,” he said, “but we have not had any frequent contacts during this tournament, and I believe it will stay that way till after the tournament.”
Klinsmann suggested that his team is at a slight disadvantage against Germany because it had to play in the remote venue of Manaus, with oppressive heat and humidity, and Germany did not. Also, he pointed out that Germany will have an extra day to prepare because the Germany-Ghana match was on Saturday.
“We have one less day (than Germany) to recover,’’ he said. “They played Saturday. We played Sunday. We played in the Amazon. They played in a place where you don’t have to travel so much. Things are set up for the big teams to move on.”
Truth is, the venue schedule was set before the World Cup draw, so any team that wasn’t seeded in the top eight could have wound up with the schedule the U.S. team got. Also, Klinsmann and his staff chose to make their base camp in Sao Paulo, far south of their three matches, because the Sao Paulo FC training ground they are renting is a world-class facility.
Germany is based in Porto Seguro, higher up the Brazilian coast.
Klinsmann said while the ending of the Portugal game was “very emotional,’’ they have put it behind them. No more questioning what if the Portuguese defender hadn’t made a great play on Michael Bradley’s oh-so-close shot. Or, what if the referee had added four extra minutes instead of five (the ref added a fifth minute when Graham Zusi was replaced by Omar Gonzalez during stoppage time, a common practice to prevent teams from wasting time). Or, what if the U.S. had taken better care of the ball on the final play and kept Ronaldo from getting his foot on it to cross in for the tying goal?
“I think the spirit is very good,’’ Klinsmann said of his team. “We are full of confidence.
“We make it a little bit more difficult with the next game to play to qualify, but we knew from the beginning that it was going to be a tough group to go through. We are right there; we have one foot in the door.
“We just have to take the second foot in there and get it done.”