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U.S. vs. Germany more than just a game for Jurgen Klinsmann

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SAO PAULO – Jurgen Klinsmann has lived in California since the late 1990s, so he speaks fluent English. That doesn't mean he is always precise in his statements.

Sometimes things get lost to nuance – such as people believing he lacked confidence when he said his United States team couldn't win the World Cup. If there is one truism about Jurgen Klinsmann it's that he has an abundance of confidence, an overabundance critics would even say.

In general, language isn't an issue. He gets his opinion across. And on Tuesday, during his press conference to discuss Thursday's game against his native Germany (noon ET), one thing seemed apparent.

He really, really wants to beat his old team, the one he as a player led to the 1990 World Cup championship (then as West Germany) and coached to third place in 2006. He said as much directly – "We want to go for gold" – but that wasn't the most notable part.

It's the indirect way he spoke that suggests this is more than just a game for him, not just one with advancement to the knockout stages on the line.

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This is personal, very personal, which makes it worth wondering if such motivation will affect the way he coaches, his players play or, conversely, the German coaches and players return volley. And who would have an advantage if it does?

There is just a ton going on here beyond a soccer game, much of it rooted in the recent history of German soccer.

Klinsmann took just eight questions Tuesday in English at his press conference. Yet on four separate occasions, in four separate answers, without ever being directly asked and always in the middle of a long rambling tangent, he broached his frustration with the Americans blowing a victory over Portugal in last Sunday's 2-2 draw in Manaus.

It's clear he saw that a win wouldn't have just put the U.S. through to the second round. It also would have freed the Americans to play without concern for result against Germany. In short, they could've gone all out, could've gone straight for the throat and not had to scoreboard-watch or consider the benefits of an unsatisfactory tie.

This was apparent over and over and over again from Klinsmann:

"If we wouldn't have ended up in a tie in the last 30 seconds of the game against Portugal, it obviously would be a lot easier …"

"We did so much work, and we were almost there already to be qualified for the knockout stage, we have to do it now with this game …"

"For the U.S. as well, we are never giving up until the final whistle blows. Sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes like the Portugal game, you concede a goal in the last second …"

"You know, obviously after the game we were kind of like 'Ahh!' We were angry because if you concede a goal 30 seconds before the final whistle … but it's all-good …"

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It didn't seem all good. His frustration was obvious. The two American players made available to the media, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi, said Klinsmann has been relentlessly positive following the late goal to Portugal. He likely was in front of the players, but it is clearly hanging over him. That's how any gut-punch result works for any good coach.

What you could sense from Klinsmann, however, was the lost opportunity in the way the U.S. might be able to go into this game against Germany. He still holds some iconic stature there and clearly cares about how he's seen and remembered. He's not a coach who favors spending more time than necessary with the media, but Tuesday he held a second press conference conducted in German for his native country's media.

He has said he will sing the German national anthem and will exchange hugs with his old friends before the game. He said he'll hug them again after.

"It's going to be emotional," he said. "There's no doubt about it."

There's been plenty of speculation over Klinsmann's ties to the German team, most notably current coach Jogi Loew, who is a former assistant not to mention close friend and confidant. Many think it will result in both teams easing into a mutually beneficial draw, causing both to advance.

Looking at Klinsmann's fire and motivation, though, perhaps it's the opposite. While the Germans are often known for their clinical, tactical, it's-just-business strategy, this is also emotional, rare and unique.

"It's something that doesn't happen every year and probably not anymore in the lifetime," he said.

If you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to defeat your old team, do you not try to seize it? Isn't it likely that Klinsmann and Loew, no matter how close they are, engage in more of a sibling rivalry, or even just some bubbling competitiveness just below the surface?

And if you are Loew and you have followed a beloved and successful coach in Klinsmann, wouldn't losing to, or even tying, that coach be particularly distasteful? Wouldn't you, no matter how much you might like the guy, be particularly motivated to throttle his new team and put him into the past, perhaps forever?

Does that push Loew to play more aggressively against the Americans? And is that even an advantage? Sure a German victory would assure advancement and leave the U.S. in potential trouble. However, does he risk opening things up instead of sitting back in a defensive position?

And what if Klinsmann stocks his lineup with five German-American dual nationals? Each is the son of a former U.S. military member once stationed in Germany where they were born and/or raised.

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That includes not just strong veteran players such as Jones and Fabian Johnson, but promising 19-year-old Julian Green, who wasn't a contender to make this year's German team but perhaps could've had a future with it. Klinsmann recruited him relentlessly to come join the U.S. right away instead.

The Germans are always going to have the advantage on a player who grew up in Germany, but wouldn't Loew want to squash Klinsmann's growing recruiting push by winning, perhaps even soundly?

And what of the players? Jones, for one, just missed making the German national team in 2008 for the European Championship. Does that mean he and others take the field with a chip on their shoulder, looking to prove they actually belonged? Or are the supposedly superior Germans extra interested in knocking down their countrymen in an effort to maintain a big brother/little brother pecking order?

Who has the advantage with all of this?

For Americans, perhaps unaware of all the backstory and potential future directions, this is just a game about getting out of group play. But there's way more to it than that, with layers of German relationships that aren't easy to read due to cultural difference.

Whether it changes the motivations or coaching strategies or game plans or the actual result remains to be seen. It's there, though. You could hear it, clearly, in Klinsmann's words.

"We're going get the job done," he said.

Jurgen Klinsmann wants this. He wants to win, and for more than just advancement.