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U.S. will face an angry German team looking to prove a point

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

FORTALEZA, Brazil – The good news for American soccer fans is that the U.S. team is hell-bent on avenging its weekend draw against a team it probably should have beaten.

The bad news for American soccer fans is that Germany is hell-bent for precisely the same reason.

Yes, both the U.S. and Germany can advance to the knockout stage with a tie on Thursday. Yes, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Germany coach Joachim Loew are close friends. (On Saturday, Loew said their relationship was "excellent.") And yes, a gentleman's agreement to conspire a result has happened before: in 1982, when West Germany beat Austria 1-0 to freeze out Algeria.

But a sample of the comments from the Germans after their 2-2 tie on Saturday against Ghana indicates those clinging to the idea of a draw should draw a different conclusion. The Germans are irritated.

"It's kind of a knockout game for both teams," said defender Per Mertesacker of the upcoming match with the Americans. "Obviously, after today, we're looking forward to that game. We want to make less mistakes and show our whole potential."

And as for playing against Klinsmann?

"He knows quite a few players from Germany," Mertesacker said. "He will try to explain how good we are. We hope we impress and surprise him."

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Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller contemplate a free kick during Germany's draw with Ghana. (AP)

Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller contemplate a free kick during Germany's draw with Ghana. …

So much for the idea of the vaunted German machine cruising idly into its final group stage game. Ghana's two-goal second-half burst riled Loew's side, and Germany needs a resonant performance on Thursday in Recife as much for themselves as for the points.

"You never think you go in and you're going to win easy," said defender Shkodran Mustafi. "We just have to play our game."

Their game is quite similar to the Americans' game – at least in strategy. And that's by Klinsmann's design. The German-born coach led his national team to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup with a few of the same players, and he has brought a German style and several German-bred players to the American squad. His formation against Ghana was highly similar to Germany's against the same team. Even the word "compact," which is so often uttered with relish when Klinsmann praises a good defense, was uttered by Loew in describing his plan for Ghana.

Yet Germany midfielder Toni Kroos grinned when asked about the parallels. "He doesn't know the team," he said of Klinsmann. "Our team is different from the team in '06."

[Gallery: Agony and ecstasy - Biggest moments of U.S. vs. Portugal]

This is the other motivating force for at least some of the Germans. They don't like the idea of being outsmarted by someone who knows their style. They want to show they've advanced since the Klinsmann era.

"It will be hard in terms of the conditions and the relationship between him and us," said Mertesacker. And yet: "We have players with the potential to surprise. That's our mentality."

Doesn't sound like those players will be pleased with a draw.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Klinsmann's approach has won an extraordinary amount of support in a very short time. His bluntness, often attributed to his German roots, brought harsh criticism in his adopted home in the days leading up to this tournament. He told the New York Times his team "cannot win" the World Cup this year. That's hardly the American Way. He also frowned upon Kobe Bryant's lucrative contract, wondering why an aging star is paid so much for what he's done in the past. That comment got American commentator Michael Wilbon so riled that he told the Team USA coach to "Get out of the country."

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Will the U.S. team be able to contain Germany's Mesut Ozil? (AP)

Will the U.S. team be able to contain Germany's Mesut Ozil? (AP)

Klinsmann did so, and to quite a positive effect. His team came to Brazil and beat Ghana, surprising many naysayers who predicted zero points in the "Group of Death," and then nearly clinched a spot in the knockout stage against Portugal before a last-minute goal devastated American fans. Still, Team USA is unbeaten in its last six games, which is notable considering the team's unspectacular history. Klinsmann has morphed the derision into praise for his precision. And he surely scored some more points on Sunday night when he was asked about the idea of a wink-wink draw on Thursday, based on the fact that something like that has happened once before, in 1982.

"You are talking about a game that is decades away that is only part of German history and not the history of the United States," he said.

Was that a shot at his home nation? Perhaps. And Klinsmann's comment that the tournament itineraries were "set up" to help Germany in terms of shorter travel only stirred the pot further.

Klinsmann knows what the real hornet's nest is, though. Germany is still the giant – literally. They have large players who are difficult to move and even more difficult to defend. The Germans gave Ghana fits in corner kicks for that reason alone. "The Germans are really tall," said Ghana coach James Kwesi Appiah. "Defending against them is very difficult." Asked after the draw what can be done against a team like that, Appiah said, "Maybe get taller players."

[Related: A moment to despair: Ronaldo breaks American hearts]

And furthermore, the Ghana side, which has faced both the Germans and the Americans, are rather clear about which team is better.

"It's not comparable when you see the rankings," said midfielder Andre Ayew. "It's two different teams."

"The last attacking third, I can't compare," said Appiah. "The Germans are really dangerous in the last third."

The Americans will bear the brunt of that danger. Mistakes that brought a tie against Portugal on Sunday will surely bring a loss on Thursday. What looked for a time like the least intense of the three group games will likely be the most intense.

And in truth, that's exactly the motivation for the Americans.

"Both teams go into this game and want to win the group," Klinsmann said on Sunday. "We want to go at Germany and get three points and be in the drivers seat for the round of 16. I am sure we will see in four days a very exciting match in Recife. I think coming now is a lot of respect from our opponents."

Respect is one thing coming from Germany. It might be the nicest thing coming from Germany.

 

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