Soccer: Klinsmann remains certain U.S. will qualify for Russia
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - United States coach Juergen Klinsmann remains "1,000 percent sure" his side will qualify for the 2018 World Cup despite a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica last week.
He even has the support of President Barack Obama, the coach told a gala dinner in Berlin.
In an interview with Reuters, Klinsmann said he was disappointed "and even angry" that his team had lost their first two World Cup qualifiers in the space of five days, having let in a late goal against the run of play to lose 2-1 at home to Mexico.
But he added that the team had played well at times during 2016 and would bounce back and win at least 15 points from the 24 available in the next eight qualifying games, which should enable the U.S. to qualify from the CONCACAF region.
The top three of the six teams go through, with the fourth-placed country going into a playoff against a team from Asia. The U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago are both pointless after two games.
"It’s important to put this in the right perspective," he said. "We lost the two opening games and played the two best teams right away. We have eight more games to get the points needed to qualify. We’ve always reacted strongly when things were nerve-wracking.
"This team is always capable of reacting. We’ll correct this with the two games in March (against Honduras and Panama) and we’ll take one game at a time from there to get our points. I’m 1,000 percent sure we’ll qualify."
Klinsmann said he was aware of the criticism in the media and calls for his dismissal after five years in the job, but he will not jettison his plan to patiently develop a team that would peak at the right time at Russia 2018.
"When things go slightly wrong, there are some people who come out and are ready to chop your head off," he said.
"In the long run, that’s going to make the development of the team difficult. It’s important to stay calm and be patient.
"There are definitely issues to be addressed but there is no reason to exaggerate them or panic," he added.
"I’ve been doing this for 35 years and there are always many reasons why certain things happen, both positively and negatively.
"It’s important to have the end result in mind. And the big picture is the overall development of the team in the four-year cycle between two World Cups. You have to be ready to take some setbacks during that phase."
Klinsmann said the players were also confident that they had learned important lessons from the two losses, including failing to capitalise on their scoring chances against Mexico and then conceding a late goal at a corner kick due to poor marking.
"Sometimes you learn more from defeat than wins," he said.
"Not everything will go perfectly in 2017 on the path to the World Cup. The team is still in the process of finding itself. We’ve seen strong improvements of some young players this year but we’re still hoping one or two younger players will emerge."
With 12 wins, six losses and one draw, he felt 2016 had been a solid year -- "except for the finish" -- and called the U.S. team's wins against Costa Rica, Paraguay, Ecuador at the Copa America to reach the last four a seminal moment for U.S. soccer.
"We had a maturing process at the Copa America that was outstanding," he said. "We wanted to have younger players becoming more powerful and confident and got that. There is a real dynamic going on with players like Bobby Wood, John Brooks, Jordan Morris and Christian Pulisic."
Klinsmann quoted President Obama telling him at a three-hour brainstorming meeting that also included a Nobel Prize winner, leading scientists and astronauts, that there was still a long way to go on the road to Russia.
"He said, 'Coach, it didn’t go well in Costa Rica, but it’s only the start of the World Cup qualifying and you’ll get back on the right track.'
"He understands that it's a long qualifying process. He also understands dynamics of soccer as a global sport and how it builds bridges."
(Editing by Steve Tongue)