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World Cup fever was boiling over at the South by Southwest festival on Sunday when U.S. national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation by fans chanting “USA, USA.”
ESPN’s Roger Bennett, who described the U.S. team “as soccer’s version of the Bitcoin,” and described the tournament as “Hunger Games in cleats,” moderated the panel with his dry British humor.
Klinsmann, a former player who won the FIFA World Cup in 1990 with West Germany — went on to share his game plan for the global competition. “It is bigger than the Olympics, and it is only one sport,” he said, warning that the 23 players who are picked will “have to go through difficult moments and deal with negatives.
“I’m making it clear to the players that the next 10 to 12 weeks are very important to us,” he revealed, adding: “We are getting more and more excited when we get closer to it.
“I tell the players, ‘This is the only time in your lifetime that you are going to play a World Cup in Brazil,” he said. “Unfortunately there is then going to be one in Qatar …”
Bennett and an ESPN crew will be filming Klinsmann and his team for Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil, a five-episode series following the athletes and the coaching staff for 100 days as they train for the tournament.
“Our national team is going to be the locomotive of the World Cup. You have the opportunity to come along and see how the pieces of the puzzle come together,” the coach told Bennett.
Renowned for his positivity, the “Americanized German” has the challenge of keeping his players calm and focused before they head down to Rio. “It is not going to be a perfect World Cup. You are going to have to be patient,” he warned, referring to concerns over the preparation of the host city and travel to remote stadiums, such as in the Amazon, for matches. “It is not going to be perfect travel and hotels — it is not going to be a perfect infrastructure.”
As Bennett, who hosts the “Men in Blazers” podcast on Grantland.com wittily described it, the weather in Brazil is going to be “bloody hot, swampy hot or excruciatingly hot.”
“At the end of the day, both teams play in the same circumstances,” said Klinsmann. “In the Amazon, Cristiano Ronaldo is going to have to play there too. They [the opponents] are going to face the heat and humidity as well.”
Despite being drawn against the formidable forces of Ghana, Portugal and Germany, Klinsmann is forever optimistic. “Even if we go into Brazil and play the ‘group of death,’ you have to think positively and say, ‘Lets take them on and surprise some people out there,'” he said.
“Those teams that have this perfect flow in everything they do may struggle a little bit more — like the Germans,” he quipped, adding that “a European country has never won a World Cup in South American and there are reasons for that. “On a God-given day, anything can happen.”
Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil premieres on ESPN on May 13 and the finale will air in June.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 12 and runs through July 13, and ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC will combine to air all 64 matches live.
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