[WORLD CUP 2014: U.S. Reaction]In the aftermath of a brutal World Cup draw that matches the USA against African nemesis Ghana and European powers Germany and Portugal, here’s what U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players had to say (all quotes provided by U.S. Soccer).
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played all four games at the 2010 World Cup, including the 2-1 overtime loss to Ghana, said of the 2014 rematch: “I think the memory will still be very fresh of the loss in the round of 16 in 2010. I think that will help us more than it will them. We’re a much stronger team than we were, and they’ll know that going into the game. We'll look to set that result right.”
Group G Opponents:
Germany:Klinsmann's old team brimming with talent
Portugal: Suwon debacle won't be repeated
Ghana: Young guns make Black Stars Africa's best hopes
Midfielder Michael Bradley noted the bizarre quirk of not only playing Ghana again – the USA also faced the African nation in group play at the 2006 tournament – but in the opener, and thus starting up where it left off, in a way.
“It’s crazy to think that you start a World Cup against the same team that you finished the last World Cup,” said Bradley. “It's certainly a team that we know, a team that between their athleticism and between the individual talent and skill that so many of their players have, it’s a very good team. We know what they're all about but at the same time I think it's a good way to start.”
A good start will be essential, since a long trip to the Amazon city of Manaus to play Portugal follows the Ghana match. DaMarcus Beasley, Steve Cherundolo (maybe) and Landon Donovan are the only holdovers from the 2002 World Cup team that stunned Portugal, 3-2, in its opening game; many of their current teammates were in their mid-teens.
“I remember getting up very early in the morning to watch,” recalls Bradley, 14 at the time. “I might have even maybe been a few minutes late and turned on the TV right as John O’Brien was scoring. But, yeah, I remember that game and remember so much from that World Cup.”
The megastar of the current Portuguese team, Cristiano Ronaldo, will be a focal point of discussion leading up to the World Cup. Beasley could be chasing Ronaldo for much of the game.
“Ronaldo is a phenomenal talent,” says Beasley. “There's not a one-man-defending show to stop him. You're going to need the whole team basically, but we know and we're going to try our best to do that. If he's on my side, I'm going to try to push him inside, not let him get you in a one-on-one and also have help from my midfielders and defenders.
“I think they have a lot of weapons. I don't think they're a one-man show. Obviously, Cristiano Ronaldo did something special against Sweden in the last game, but at the same time they're a good team. They have all good players, and defensively they're pretty strong.”
Facing Germany in the final group game will match head coach Jurgen Klinsmann against his native land, and a game that doesn’t need any extra intrigue -- Germany beat the USA in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups -- will have plenty of it. Cherundolo has played his entire professional career with German Bundesliga club Hannover, and one of Bradley’s former clubs is Borussia Moenchengladbach. A half a dozen World Cup candidates are German-Americans.
“That game is going to mean a lot to a lot of people on different levels,” says backup keeper Brad Guzan. “As a whole, as a country, as a team, the most important thing is to finish the group stage on a positive note and hopefully we'll be advancing out of the group after that game. Every World Cup, every year, Germany is obviously a world powerhouse, but you want to play against the best and to go against someone like Germany it will be a great opportunity.”
The USA is regarded as a longshot to advance out of the group and some observers believe the USA is best-suited to the underdog role. Clint Dempsey isn't buying that approach.
"We want to put ourselves in a position to get out of the group and that means getting points," says Dempsey. "I don't look at it like we're the underdog, I just look at it like we want to get points in every game. I still think that our team has the quality that if we play our best ball, we can get out of the group."
Klinsmann rejects the term as well. Three difficult opponents are opportunities as well as obstacles and he was hired to push the program forward in the first place.
“No, we're not underdogs,” he says. “The nations in a World Cup, these 32 nations are all big names. They all deserve to be there and there are no surprises. All the big nations are in there, and if you want to get into the top 10 or top 12 in the world, you have to start beating them.”