By Erik Kirschbaum
SANTO ANDRE, Brazil, June 23 (Reuters) - Three-times World Cup winners Germany and their legions of fans once thought they would have an easy time against the United States in their Group G match, but Mats Hummels said on Monday the Americans were a lot better than expected.
Soccer superpower Germany will be in for a battle against the United States and their German coach Juergen Klinsmann in the showdown, Hummels told a news conference at the German base camp on Brazil's Atlantic coast in Santo Andre.
"The United States are playing well and he's doing a good job," said Hummels, a Borussia Dortmund defender who played a strong role in Germany's 4-0 win over Portugal last week and the 2-2 draw against Ghana on Saturday.
"I'm really positively surprised. We knew they had good players but I didn't expect they would get the job done as well as they have on the pitch," said Hummels. The United States beat Ghana 2-1 last week and drew 2-2 against Portugal on Sunday.
"That might be due to my own ignorance about the United States," he added, expressing a widespread sentiment in Germany before the World Cup that the United States was a "developing country" compared to the likes of Germany.
"They're a strong opponent and we've got to beat them," said Hummels.
He noted that the United States had even upset Germany in a friendly on June 2, 2013, by 4-3. Most Germans point out that it was a team of mostly reserves that played in Washington D.C., though Hummels did not mention that.
"We lost to them so they can play well," Hummels said.
Germany have won six of the nine matches against the United States in the past while the Americans have won three - there has never been a draw.
Coach Joachim Loew's assistant Hansi Flick did not want to heap as much praise on the United States and said Germany had no fear of the upstart U.S. team. But he did concede that they will be a difficult opponent.
"They've played a very compact style, very well organised and very disciplined," Flick said. "Their offence was very intensive and for the whole 90 minutes. It's definitely going to be a match where we have to go all out.
"We've definitely got respect for them but we're not afraid of them either." (Editing by Justin Palmer and Angus MacSwan)