Thursday, Nov 27, 2014

FIFA World Cup: The fantastic Mr Klinsmann

Klinsmann’s decision to drop USA stalwart Donovan for the WC qualifiers was criticised, but the side went on to win 12 matches in a row to book their spot in Brazil with ease. ( Source: AP ) Klinsmann’s decision to drop USA stalwart Donovan for the WC qualifiers was criticised, but the side went on to win 12 matches in a row to book their spot in Brazil with ease. ( Source: AP )
Written by Aditya Iyer | Recife | Posted: June 26, 2014 1:21 am | Updated: June 26, 2014 2:51 pm

In his Twitter account, Jurgen Klinsmann is not just a serial exclamation mark user, but trades it wholly for full stops. Each of the USA coach’s last ten tweets (most of them composed here in Brazil) end with at least two slammers. Many punctuate with three. Roughly, Klinsmann averages about 3.2 exclamation marks per 140 characters.

Not too long ago, he was known for his German coldness and steely stare — such as the one he gave a reporter when asked point blank if he intentionally dived in the 1990 World Cup final to get Argentina’s Pedro Monzon sent-off, a moment that eventually resulted in his trophy deciding goal. Today, US Soccer aficionados claim with glee that the 49-year old resident of California has finally been Americanised.

He vouches for it of course. “In the US, I like that someone asks, ‘How are you?’” he is quoted as telling New York Times recently. “I always say, ‘I’m fantastic!’” It’s a word he likes, ‘fantastic’, exclaiming it often at press conferences here in Brazil, with a Californian lilt no less. The man who once called Stuttgart home is now a true-blooded Yank. This, it is said, hasn’t gone down too well with the man on Deutschland’s streets.

However, as far as Mannschaft and its faithful are concerned, Klinsmann playing Yank off the field is not the problem here. What is, and will be when the two sides face off in their final group game on Thursday, is the fact that he has taught 23 little-known Americans to play, think and attack like Germans on the field.

And the players are more than thankful for it. Danke, they perhaps say. “The history of the sport is not in America. It is where he (Klinsmann) is from, in Europe,” USA ‘keeper Tim Howard has been recorded as saying in the past. “That’s something people have to realise.” Against Portugal on Sunday, realisation dawned upon the world like a smack from a sledgehammer, when USA were all of 30 seconds away from becoming the first team to qualify from a group that contains Germany, Ghana and Portugal.

Had Cristiano Ronaldo not found his crossing touch in the final minute of a five-minute period at the end of regular time, the Recife fixture wouldn’t have mattered to USA. But inconsequential it is far from being, not since Klinsmann signed on US Soccer’s contract’s dotted line in 2011. And ever since, he has been leaving his trademark ‘creative destruction’ signature on the men who say ‘soccer’ instead of football, quite like he did for ‘fußballers’ of Germany eight years ago.

No interference

Back in 2006, he was hired with the singular motive of helping Germany win the title at home. Klinsmann, though, had one condition with the federation. He wanted no interference with his decisions. So a country stood helplessly in shock when he dropped the team’s most experienced player and the Golden Ball winner from the previous World Cup in 2002, goalie Oliver Kahn.

He, of course, came in for heavy criticism from the local press, who even went as far as revealing the number of days ‘the uninterested coach’ spent back home in California leading up to the Cup. But all that came to a screeching halt when he took a young German squad to the semi-finals, where they narrowly lost out during extra-time to eventual winners Italy.

Several of those once-young Germans, handpicked by Klinsmann, are now key members of the 2014 campaign. And they, the likes of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski to name a few, would have noticed that their old coach has been up to old tricks in the promised land as well.

Klinsmann began his World Cup qualifiers by dropping the old and successful legs of Landon Donovan, the man with the most number of goals and assists for his country. Then he picked green thumbs such as unheard of 19-year old winger, Julian Green. This was the Kahn episode all over again — the press ripped him apart in the papers and USA ripped apart their competition, winning a record 12 matches on the trot to become the first CONCACAF side to make it to Brazil.

This made Klinsmann happy as punch. Because everytime he was asked how he or his team were faring, he nodded politely and said: “Fantastic!!!!”

The scenarios

Germany: Can top their group with a win or a draw against USA. They have a goal difference of +4 and seem set for first, even if they lose. Germany seem set to go through, unless they contrive to lose big.

USA: Bring out those calculators. USA advance with a win or draw against Germany but will be rooting for Portugal as Ghana’s goal difference is just two lesser than their’s. They can also qualify if the other match is drawn.

Ghana: Will advance if they win and there is a three goal swing in their favour overall. This will happen if the US lose and they defeat Portugal by two goals.

Portugal: They have the toughest route to round two. Have to win big and hope the Germans do to the US what they did to Portugal.

Belgium: Having already qualified, they will win the group with a win or a draw.

Algeria: Will qualify with a win. Can sneak through with a draw if Belgium defeat S Korea. Can also top the group on goal difference if Korea win by a big margin.

Russia: Need a win to qualify and have to at least match S Korea’s result. If Belgium draw or win, a victory is enough for Russia.

South Kkorea: Have to win by a bigger margin than Russia while hoping the Russians win against Algeria. If Algeria draws, they will need to win and overturn a goal difference of -3 as compared to the Algerians to qualify.

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