Donovan: 'It's really up for grabs in a lot of positions'

[USA MEN] As the U.S. men's national team camp in Sao Paulo wound down, veteran Landon Donovan, seeking to play in his fourth World Cup, talked to the Brazilian media about the competition for spots on the World Cup team and the competition in Group G, which he says is the Group of Death because the USA is in it.

Here is what he said in the Q&A provided by U.S. Soccer:

On whether he speaks much Portuguese and where he learned:
“I only know a few words. We’re here now two weeks and we practiced in the hotel. Benny Feilhaber speaks Portuguese, so that helps. We’ve learned a few words. It’s nice.”

On what going to a fourth World Cup would mean to him:
“I hope to go to my fourth World Cup. For all of us, we have a lot of respect for football in Brazil, and I think for the whole world, the opportunity to play in a World Cup in Brazil, it only happens once in your life. We’ve been very lucky to have two weeks here in Sao Paulo. We train at this beautiful facility every day. The people here at Sao Paulo FC have been fantastic. They help us with everything. We’ve had a wonderful time here.”

On his overall experience in Brazil and in the city of Sao Paolo:
“This is my second time in Brazil. The first time was a long time ago in Brasilia. I play in Los Angeles with two players from Sao Paulo, Leonardo and Juninho. They spoke a lot about Sao Paulo before we got here. They said it’s beautiful here and that we would like it a lot. Everything they said has been correct. We are staying in a beautiful part of the city. We walk around in the afternoon and the people are very friendly. We feel safe here, we feel accepted here, and it’s been very nice to have a couple weeks to adapt to what it’s going to be like this summer.”

On whether being here for two weeks in January will give the U.S. an advantage for the World Cup:
“It definitely helps because now when we come back in the summer we have a comfort level. We know the club here, we know the people, and we know the training facility. It makes it a lot easier. In 2009, we played the Confederations Cup in South Africa and the next year the World Cup in 2010. That was very helpful. I think this is similar. You get a feeling for what it’s like here and it helps a lot.”

On Jurgen Klinsmann’s managing style and whether it is a more ‘European’ approach:
“It’s unique for me and a lot of the players. He’s very demanding, but he’s respectful. He pushes us a lot. He has the German mentality of really working hard, but also he lives in California, he likes the American ‘free spirit’ mentality, so he’s very energetic and very lively. It’s a very good mix and the guys have taken to it well.”

On the team’s expectations for the World Cup and what it would be like to play Brazil:
“For me, it would be a dream to have a game against Brazil because that means we’re advancing in the tournament. That would be wonderful. Our expectations, like most teams, are to get out of the group. We’re aware that we have a difficult group, but the expectation is that we can do it. We’re going to try to get out of our group just like most teams in this World Cup. That’s the objective, that’s the goal.

“Everybody in the world is familiar with Brazilian football players. We’ve all played with and against many very good Brazilian players. I think for them the opportunity to play the World Cup in Brazil is beautiful.”

On how he learned about soccer growing up:
“When I was younger, there wasn’t a lot of soccer on TV. It wasn’t like here in Brazil where everybody watches all the time. We didn’t have the opportunity to watch as much. So, I had a brother who was older and he played. That’s how I started playing and I loved it. I didn’t watch much but I loved it and I played as much as I could until people saw me and said do you want to play for the next team, and the next team. Eventually, I made it.

“Only about 15 years ago did I really start following soccer. I would watch on a VCR tapes of World Cups from before and stuff like that, but I didn’t turn on the TV and watch soccer. The World Cup in 1994 was the first time I really paid attention. I watched the U.S. games, I watched all the games. I went to see live Argentina-Romania in Los Angeles. Obviously I watched the final with Brazil and Italy. That was the first time I had a taste for what it was like.”

On how the team is planning to deal with traveling long distances during the World Cup:
“We’re fortunate that most of our players play in America, and in America we travel long distances every weekend. Sometimes three to six hours on the plane, so we have a little advantage in that we are used to that. In Europe, they never travel more than one hour, so they’re not used to that. For us it’s not a problem.”

On whether safety was an issue before coming to Brazil:
“Safety was not an issue for us. We hear things, we read things. Every World Cup there are concerns, but for us it’s been terrific. Our staff does a great job. The people of Sao Paulo have been terrific, very nice and friendly. In South Africa there were big concerns about safety and everything was wonderful. I expect the same here in Brazil.”

On the quality of Sao Paulo FC:
“We played against Sao Paulo two times here. It’s a very good team with players that we know, that we see in Europe. It’s been a really good experience to have that opportunity while we’re here to train and get better against very good players.”

On if he would like to play for a Brazilian team some day?
“I would like to. I don’t know if that would be possible. Right now I play in Los Angeles. I love playing in L.A. and I have three more years. I’m very old now, so I don’t know if I can play after that.”

On whether he thinks the U.S. is in the ‘Group of Death’ and if the match against Ghana will be the key to getting to the second round:
“I do agree it’s the “Group of Death,” but the reason it’s the “Group of Death” is also because we are in it. In the past it would have been an easier group for Germany, Ghana or Portugal because it had us in it. Now, because we’re in it, it makes it one of the most difficult groups in the tournament.”

“As far as Ghana goes, the way things go in all these tournaments from when I was 17 till now, the first game is very, very important. I don’t know the percentages, but they go way up if you win your first game. And even if you get a point in the first game your percentages go way up. It’s important that we get off to a really good start, especially considering we have Portugal and Germany to follow that. Our goal right now is prepare and think about Ghana. Once we take care of the Ghana game, then we move on.”

On whether he is concerned about playing against Cristiano Ronaldo and if he agrees that he is the best player in the world:
“He’s certainly one of the best players in the world, there’s no doubt about that. I think the Portuguese team is very talented and has some very special players. I think the German team is very talented and has special players. In my opinion Ghana is the best team in Africa. They’re all different and they all pose challenges. Of course Cristiano is a special player and he’s going to be a challenge for us, but there will be 21 other players on the field who want to make an impact and make a difference. Our job as team is to make it difficult for Cristiano to do well and then also for us to have chances to play and enjoy the game as well.”

On the differences in the team between now and the same time in 2010 before the World Cup:
“In my opinion, there’s never been competition for places on the team like there is now. You can really make a case for 35 to 40 guys to be part of a 23-man roster. That’s never been the case. There’s been 18, 19, 20 that are assured of being there and then a few extra spots. Now, it’s really up for grabs in a lot of positions. That in itself breeds competition, which obviously makes the team better. I think the experience we have now far exceeds the experience we’ve had with any team. That lines up to give us a real chance. If this happened 15 years ago where we had a group like this, people would say no chance. Now, we’re confident in how we play, confident in what we do, our guys have had enough experiences against all of these players, against teams like Ghana, Portugal, Germany where we feel confident we can get results against them. That’s a nice feeling going into a World Cup. Is it going to be difficult? Of course. Every World Cup is difficult. Every game in 2010 was difficult. Everyone thought that Slovenia and Algeria would be easy games and we had to come from behind to draw Slovenia and we had to score at the end to beat Algeria. That’s the way World Cups are, and this one’s going to be the same. We feel good about where we’re at.”
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