NATAL Brazil (Reuters) – Americans should expect their team to make a deep World Cup run in Brazil, coach Juergen Klinsmann said on Sunday, calling the national side a locomotive that can push the game to new heights in the United States.
For years, merely qualifying for the World Cup was seen as the gold standard for U.S. teams but after steady growth at home and the national team’s increasing success on the pitch, the bar is now higher, Klinsmann said.
“Expectations now in the United States are very high,” Klinsmann told reporters ahead of the Group G clash against Ghana on Monday in Natal.
“We are growing the game better not only on the national level. The (domestic) league is more and more competitive, in every area the game is growing. We want to drive this as the locomotive as the national team.”
The United States have periodically made it out of the group stage at World Cups but Klinsmann and his players say they have the quality and confidence to make this the rule rather than the exception.
“Every time you come to the World Cup it’s a fresh slate,” said captain Clint Dempsey.
“Our preparations have been very good and we are excited. If we play to the best of our ability we have the quality to go far in this tournament.”
Accomplishing that goal, would also certainly mean a win against Ghana, a side who have sent the United States at the last two World Cups.
The Americans also face three-times World Cup winners Germany and a Portugal team led by world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo.
“There is nothing better than starting against a team that beat you in the last two World Cups,” the former Germany coach said.
“There is nothing like starting the World Cup like it’s a final.”
Klinsmann, who won the World Cup as a player with Germany in 1990, also played down suggestions that the weather would be a factor after three successive days of driving rain raised questions about the quality of the pitch.
But the German said a qualifying campaign that featured games in climates ranging from snowstorms to blistering heat waves has prepared the team for whatever the conditions.
“No matter what the circumstances are, no matter how the game goes this group is ready to make it happen,” Klinsmann said. “If it is snowing or thunder and lightning this is about playing football.
“I booked my flight home after the final,” he added.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Ed Osmond)