SAO PAULO – The United States had one key member missing when it landed in Brazil for the start of its World Cup campaign on Monday morning.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klinsmann did not make the journey to South America with his squad, preferring to remain in Florida for an extra 24 hours in order to spy on the U.S.' first opponent, Ghana.
The Ghanaians, who knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups, were finalizing their own preparations for the tournament by taking on South Korea in a friendly at Miami's SunLife Stadium on Monday evening.
Klinsmann couldn't have enjoyed what he saw as the African side dominated South Korea, racking up a convincing 4-0 victory. Ghana totally dominated possession and sent a serious signal of intent to Klinsmann as he looked on from the stands.
After watching the game alongside his assistant Berti Vogts and head scout Matthias Hamann, the trio will board a flight for Brazil late Monday night and reconnect with the players on Tuesday.
Klinsmann's decision emphasizes the vital importance of the opening match in Natal on June 16, where a victory over Ghana is crucial if the team is to stand a serious chance of progressing from Group G, a.k.a. the Group of Death.
"For us everything right now is about Ghana," Klinsmann said last week. "Everything we do is looking at that and targeted towards it."
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Meanwhile, the U.S. players went through their paces at their Brazil base, Sao Paulo FC, on Monday afternoon, with a light session to get limbered up following nearly nine hours on an airplane.
Assistant coaches Andreas Herzog and Tab Ramos led the session, where no serious technical work was done, focusing more on stretching and low-key exercises to ease the adjustment.
Several of the players were at the same venue in January, where the U.S. held a training camp for its Major League Soccer contingent.
"It was good to be here earlier in the year," said forward Chris Wondolowski. "It is good now to be somewhere we are familiar and comfortable with."
A strong start will be vital to the American campaign, although Ghana will be no pushover, ranked 37th in the world but arguably the strongest of the African teams.
With their feet now on Brazilian soil, the reality that the World Cup is just around the corner has firmly set in for Team USA. Goalkeeper Tim Howard appeared a little more on edge than his typically jovial self and within less than a week the U.S.' largely untested squad will be performing on the biggest stage of all.
"Every session we do now is geared towards Ghana," Howard said. "That is the cool thing about getting down here. It is all business now. We are focused on how we are going to beat Ghana."
With, it is hoped, some useful information gleaned by Klinsmann's last-ditch scouting mission.
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