U.S. Readies To Step Onto Stage For Knockout Round Drama
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Finally, this hour, to the World Cup in Brazil. Today, Europe dominated. France and Germany both advanced and will play each other in the quarterfinals. France beat Nigeria 2-0 and Germany beat Algeria in overtime 2-1. The U.S. team is in the Brazilian city of Salvador for its match tomorrow against Belgium. NPR's Tom Goldman is also in Salvador and he joins me now. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Melissa.
BLOCK: And you were at a news conference today held by the U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. One bit of news has to do with the team's injured striker, Jozy Altidore. What did Klinsmann have to say?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, will good news for once, Jozy Altidore, who injured himself in the Ghana game, the first game they played in Brazil, he apparently is available to play tomorrow against Belgium. The question being how many minutes will he play and Klinsmann couldn't answer that. But we did watch him a little bit working out today with the team, some light training. He's been with the team now for a couple - three days, training with them and he looked fairly good. Of course it's hard to make the leap from light training to full on game, so we'll see. But if he can play, it would help a lot. It would help Clint Dempsey a lot, who has been the lone forward, the lone striker, and very lonely. And the U.S. has really, kind of, adopted more of a defensive emphasis in the absence of having a couple of guys up there. So it may help.
BLOCK: Now Klinsmann also mentioned concerns about the referee that FIFA's named for tomorrow's game against Belgium. What are the concerns?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, it's an Algerian referee who's been assigned to this match. And there are concerns that the Algerian ref speaks French and the Belgian team speaks French and the United States doesn't. The United States beat Algeria in the last World Cup, you know possible concern that there may be some bad blood there and Klinsmann admitted that there is some concern. He said sometimes he didn't understand FIFA in the way they assign these referees. But he also said and I'm quoting here "we give it the absolute benefit of the doubt. We respect the decision and we hope everything goes well." So just another kind of sub-drama, subplot to watch to see if the ref is being fair-minded in the way he calls the game.
BLOCK: Tom, this is a coach, Jurgen Klinsmann who was very guarded even pessimistic before the World Cup, saying it wasn't realistic to think the U.S. could win. Now he's sounding very bullish, apparently told players change your tickets, booked them for after the final game.
GOLDMAN: Well this is what I think the real kind of foundation of success for this U.S. team is Juergen Klinsmann's incredible optimist. And he's done such a great job of taking a team, that really doesn't have a lot of outstanding individual talent but he has blended them together, this whole idea that the U.S. kind of one team, one nation, it's taken them this far. The question is, is that the kind of thing that can keep you going when the teams are better, there's a lot more individual skill in the knockout rounds. We shall see.
BLOCK: And briefly Tom, let's talk little bit about tomorrow's match against the Belgian team, the red Devils. What does that match up look like?
GOLDMAN: Well, they were a sexy pick to do well coming into this tournament based on their star-studded lineup, filled with players on top European clubs, including one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Thibaut Courtois. They're very skilled; they got through an easy group in the first-round undefeated. But, you know, they haven't really dominated. They scored only four goals in three matches and as opposed to some of the teams the U.S. has played so far Melissa, like Ghana and Germany, Belgium hasn't been a super aggressive attacking team. They played tight defense and then struck late in games. They've scored all their goals late in games. They also come into tomorrow nursing a lot of injuries, so that could be a concern, so good team but some question marks going in.
BLOCK: That NPR's Tom Goldman who will be at tomorrow's game, U.S. V. Belgium in Salvador, Brazil. Tom thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: It's my pleasure Melissa.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
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