United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is one of the most successful strikers in the history of the German national team, having won a World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and a European Championship with the reunified Germany side in 1996. On top of all that, his stint as manager of the national team helped to reestablish them as a world power. Yet, despite that long history, Klinsmann had strong words for FIFA and preferential treatment of Germany after the United States' 2-2 draw against Portugal in their second match in Group G.
Minutes after a shocking late goal for Portugal robbed the United States of clinching a spot in the Round of 16, Klinsmann spoke with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap about the U.S.'s difficult travel schedule and relative lack of rest throughout the group stage and particularly ahead of Thursday's match against Germany, the strong favorite to win Group G. Here's the money quote:
"We have one day less to recover. They played yesterday, we played today. We played in the Amazon, they played in the locations where they don't have to travel as much. Everything was done for the big favorites to move on. We have to do it the tough way but we're going to do it the tough way."
Here are the facts as laid out by Klinsmann. Thursday's match takes place in Recife, the largest metropolitan area in the northern regions of Brazil. Germany played Saturday's match vs. Ghana in Fortaleza, another city in the northeast with a relatively pleasant tropical climate. The U.S., by contrast, played Sunday's match in Manaus, a very humid city right in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. In effect, Germany gets an extra day of rest, played in a more temperate climate and has to travel less distance for Thursday's match.
The U.S. has the most taxing travel itinerary of any team in the World Cup, but their match against Germany looks especially challenging given the quality of opponent and the circumstances of scheduling. The players themselves are particularly well suited for it, given their experience traveling long distances to disparate climates for CONCACAF qualification and (at least for some participants) the Major League Soccer schedule, but transcending difficulty doesn't change the fact that the hardship exists in the first place.
Of course, these difficulties have little to do with preferential treatment of the favorites, because the intricacies of the schedules were determined by the World Cup draw itself. World Cup schedules are determined before teams are ever put into their specific groups — the match between Germany and the United States was "G1 vs. G3" before it ever involved these two nations. By virtue of their FIFA ranking, Germany was afforded status as a seeded team in Pot 1, while the U.S. was one of eight North American and Asian nations constituting Pot 3. If the draw had progressed differently, then Colombia or Switzerland could have received the same benefit as Germany. If any bias exists, then it's determined by the FIFA world rankings and the random mutations of the World Cup draw, not necessarily by a country's historical excellence and status as a traditional power.
[Video: Did extra time come back to bite U.S. at end?]
Oddly enough, the fact that Klinsmann isn't the only coach decrying this system makes his case a bit less convincing. Louis van Gaal of the Netherlands has complained about a schedule that allows Brazil (Group A's seeded team) to play after his team (current Group B leaders) as an unfair attempt to give the hosts a chance to determine their ideal opponent. But van Gaal's statements came in the midst of more comments on poor refereeing against his side and media spying — he comes across as beset by paranoia rather than as the bearer of a strong argument against improper treatment. Both Klinsmann and van Gaal seem to be looking for a coherent explanation of their own bad luck. In truth, they were victims of the draw, not some larger conspiracy.
It's as yet unclear how Klinsmann's comments will be received in Germany. Although he had a disastrous and short-lived time as manager of powerhouse club FC Bayern Munich in the 2008-09 campaign, he was a very successful leader of the national team and maintains a strong relationship with current manager Joachim Low, his assistant at the 2006 World Cup on home soil. Klinsmann didn't directly criticize Germany, but it's easy to see how his comments could be construed as painting the United States as more deserving of any success they achieve on Thursday. At any rate, the match looks to be a massive moment in the history of the German national team and its former star and leader.
- - - - - - -