By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, Jan 25 (Reuters) - United States coach Juergen Klinsmann said places were still up for grabs in his 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup following a 12-day training camp in Brazil aimed at helping players adjust to the draining conditions expected at the tournament.
Klinsmann's side face an imposing group, tropical temperatures and plenty of travel, and he said the two weeks spent south of the equator were vital in helping them prepare for the challenge.
Klinsmann, who took over as U.S. coach in July 2011, took a young squad to Sao Paulo, their base for the tournament, with only 10 players involved in the qualification campaign included in the 26-strong squad.
The trip served to give him a closer look at those with potential to squeeze their way into final contention.
"We still have quite a lot of competition, and we saw in these last two weeks a group of players - many of them younger guys - who are very hungry and eager to kick the guys out ahead of them," the 49-year-old told Reuters.
"We always tell the players that it doesn't matter what you have done in the past, what matters is how you are performing now. There are going to be some very tough decisions in May."
Klinsmann's team have drawn a difficult group which includes the coach's home nation Germany, a Portugal side featuring Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana, who made the last-eight in 2010.
They have also been handed one of the toughest travel schedules, with all three group matches in the north of the country.
Klinsmann's decision to base the team in Sao Paulo means they will rack up more than 14,000km in air miles going to and from matches in the tropical north, where temperatures are expected to be above 30 degrees Celsius.
"It will be a World Cup of adjusting, adjusting to whatever the circumstance and conditions are and you have to come in and kind of take things the way they are and that is exactly what we do," the former Stuttgart, Inter Milan and Spurs striker said.
"We accomplished a lot of things and for us it was a great opportunity to kind of get an idea what to expect this summer.
"Things went really, really well."
The trip was based at the training site of Sao Paulo FC, one of Brazil's biggest and richest clubs.
The U.S. played two friendlies against their hosts, winning one and losing the other, an experience the young Americans found thrilling.
"When you play against a team like that it helps you prepare for what you might face in the World Cup," said 26-year old midfielder Dax McCarty.
"They give you a taste of what it's going to be like against some of the better teams."
The facilities also drew praise.
"Some of the facilities in the United States are amazing but here it is gorgeous," striker Chris Wondolowski said, just moments before one of club's resident peacocks walked out behind him.
"To be honest I wasn't quite sure what to expect but it blew my mind. It's been amazing." (Editing by Josh Reich)