SAO PAULO, Brazil — The U.S. national soccer team will arrive at Arena Pernambuco in Recife for Thursday’s pivotal World Cup match against Germany after playing in Amazonian air as thick as hummus four days earlier. Germany will take the field for the Group G showdown with the benefit of 27 extra hours of recuperation and preparation after competing in another northeast coastal city, Fortaleza.
In a tight scheduling window, with berths in the knockout stage at stake and players suffering from injuries and fatigue, U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes Germany, his native country, was handed an unfair advantage. After his team’s 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday in stifling Manaus, Klinsmann criticized tournament organizer FIFA for imbalanced scheduling.
“We have one day less to recover,” he said. Germany “played yesterday; we played today. We played in the Amazon; they played in the locations where they don't have to travel as much. Everything was done for the big favorites to move on.”
To ensure they move on, the Americans (four points) will need a victory or draw against Germany (four). They could still advance with a loss but have to rely on the outcome of the other group match, Ghana vs. Portugal, who sport one point apiece and collide in Brasilia.
A tie in that game would propel the United States to the round of 16. If a team were to win that other game, the Americans would prefer it were Portugal, which has a smaller chance of overtaking them in the first tiebreaker (goal differential).
The U.S. mission has been complicated by the scheduling. The Germans played their second match, a 2-2 draw with Ghana, on Saturday afternoon, an early start allowing them to return to their training base that evening. The game-time temperature was 84 degrees with 61 percent humidity.
The Americans had an evening start the next day in Manaus, the remote venue in Amazonas state. The temperature reached 86, the humidity peaked at 85 percent. In a World Cup rarity, referee Nestor Pitana halted play during the first half for a water break.
Although the U.S. Soccer Federation said no players required intravenous fluids after the match, the Americans were a worn-out bunch boarding the bus for the overnight charter back to Sao Paulo.
They had five days to regroup between their opener against Ghana and the second match; they will have three to prepare for Germany. The Germans received four days to prepare for their second game and four for the United States.
FIFA schedules three matches on most days during the group stage, with scattered starting times. So all four teams in the group do not necessarily play on the same day. The exception is the last game day in each group, when the two matches are played simultaneously.
The way Sunday’s match in Manaus ended — Portugal scored in the last minute of stoppage time — added another layer to the U.S. team’s recovery process: an emotional one. When the final whistle sounded, the Americans were gutted. They were in better spirits afterward, accentuating the positive of earning a point against a favored foe and remaining in second place.
“The emotional part will wear off pretty quickly,” midfielder Graham Zusi said. “We’ve got to get back to business.”
The other issue raised by Klinsmann — travel — does not carry as much weight as the factor of days between matches. While the Americans will have ventured almost 4,700 miles on three flights over five days to play two matches, they chose to stay in the south, a considerable distance from their first-round venues, all in the north.
Their flights are 31 / 2, four and three hours, respectively. It would be like setting up camp in Washington and playing in Denver, Salt Lake City and Dallas — only without the two-hour time difference for the first two trips. (Most of Brazil is in the same time zone.)
Before FIFA conducted the draw in December, the USSF locked into a training base at Sao Paulo FC, one of the best facilities in the country. The delegation is staying at a nearby hotel but, at times, spends the entire day at SPFC.
The country’s largest city is also its transportation hub. Fifteen of the 32 teams are based in and around the sprawling metropolis.
After the draw, when the USSF learned of its northern destinations, the organization considered staying part of the time closer to the venues. Ultimately, it decided to remain in Sao Paulo.
Germany built its own training facility on the central coast, in part to reduce travel time to its three group venues (33 percent fewer miles than the U.S. delegation in recent days).
“Everybody knew that this World Cup will be a very, very different World Cup in Brazil with the huge distances, different climate zones and all the different challenges this country brings along,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a very exciting World Cup, but it’s also a very challenging World Cup. So we knew that the preparation is key to success.”
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