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U.S. Facing Toughest World Cup Soccer Group in Heat, Coach Says

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Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. will have to do things the hard way if it’s to make the second round at next year’s soccer World Cup in Brazil.

The Americans will travel farther than any other team in the group stage, where they will face world No. 2 and three-time champion Germany; Ghana, which knocked the U.S. out of the past two World Cups, and Portugal, whose lineup includes Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s favored to be chosen as the world’s best player in 2013.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati likened his team’s draw to a movie script. Storylines include U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing off against Germany, with whom he won the World Cup as a player in 1990 and coached to the semifinals in 2006.

“There are scripts in all three” games, Gulati said in an interview after yesterday’s draw in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.

Gulati said he’s also looking forward to playing Portugal again. The U.S. beat Portugal 3-2 at the 2002 World Cup on its way to the quarterfinals, its best performance since it reached the semifinals in the inaugural tournament in 1930.

The victory against Portugal was maybe the “most amazing win in the history of the World Cup” for the U.S., Gulati said.

Klinsmann’s team will be based in Sao Paulo and will play its group games in Natal, Recife and Manaus, the Amazonian city the coach had said he wanted to avoid. The combined distance between the three cities is 8,866 miles (14,268 kilometers).

‘Short Straw’

“We’ve drawn the short straw there,” Gulati said. “However, in the last World Cup in South Africa we had, out of the 32 teams there, the least amount of travel, no flights. We were the only ones that didn’t need to fly there. These things balance out.”

The first U.S. game is on June 16 against Ghana in Natal. It plays Portugal six days later in Manaus -- where the average temperature in June is 27.2 degrees Centigrade (81 Fahrenheit), with 93 percent humidity during the day -- before taking on Germany in Recife on June 26.

“Maybe not Germany right away and maybe not Manaus right away,” Klinsmann, who said his team had the toughest group, told reporters. “We got them both. It is what it is. We don’t complain, we take it on, we do the traveling and we adjust to the climate and this is what a World Cup is about.”

Former Partners

Klinsmann’s former assistant Joachim Loew now coaches Germany, and several members of the U.S. squad have German ancestry. Klinsmann, who scored the winning penalty kick that brought Germany the last of its three World Cup titles in Rome in 1990, sat in the dugout alongside Loew when host Germany was eliminated by Italy in the 2006 semifinals.

The Americans will be seeking to avenge defeats to Ghana in the past two editions of the most-watched single-sport tournament.

Ghana in June 2010 moved into the quarterfinals with a 2-1 extra-time win against the U.S. in the round of 16. Four years earlier, in their first World Cup, the Black Stars won 2-1 against the U.S. to eliminate the Americans and advance to the second round.

“Ghana has history with us, and Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, and then Germany are one of the absolute top favorites to win the World Cup,” Klinsmann said. “But we don’t complain. We’ll take them on.”

Though the logistics and draw don’t favor the U.S. -- which beat a second-string Germany 4-3 in an exhibition match in Washington in June -- Gulati said the geographic spread and structure of the Major League Soccer season make his team better prepared than most for the task.

“Our players are used to big distances, the U.S. is a big country and it gets hot during the summer,” he said. “Virtually all our players have played in Major League Soccer. They’re used to travel and heat.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Tariq Panja in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil at tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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