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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 30, 2014
EVEN BEFORE THE KICKOFF ...
USA coach Klinsmann stars a refereeing controversy

By Michael Lewis
Big Apple Soccer Editor

Jurgen Klinsmann hopes Algerian ref Djamel Haimoudi doesn't become an issue vs. Belgium.
Jurgen Klinsmann hopes Algerian ref Djamel Haimoudi doesn't become an issue vs. Belgium.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
SALVADOR, Brazil -- Even before referee Djamel Haimoudi has made a call, the Algerian already was mired in a controversy 24 hours prior to kickoff of the United States' Round of 16 game against Belgium.

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann expressed concern that the game official might be compromised just a bit for the knockout round match at Arena Fonte Nova on Tuesday, given his nationality and language.

"We hope it's not a concern," Klinsmann said during a press conference at the stadium on Monday. "We know he already did two games so far and he did them very well. We wish he continues his refereeing the perfect way he's done so far."

But ...

"Is it a good feeling? No, because he's coming from the same group with Belgium and Algeria," Klinsmann said. "He is able to speak French with their players on the field, not with us. It's the country that we beat in the last second of the last World Cup."

Klinsmann was referring to the USA's 1-0 win over Algeria on Landon Donovan's dramatic stop-time goal at South Africa 2010.

ďI understand it is difficult to choose the right referee for the right games," he said. "Itís always kind of tricky for FIFA. We will give him absolutely the benefit of the doubt."

When asked about Klinsmannís comments, Belgian coach Marc Wilmots replied: "I never talk to the referee. I don't think the referees are there to talk. ... Talking about that, it's finding an excuse before the game."

The second-round game means much for both teams. The winner will meet the victor of the Argentina-Switzerland match, which also will be played Tuesday. For the Belgians, it would demonstrate they are indeed one of the best teams in the world after failing to reach the World Cup for 12 years.

"It is very clear that if we don't qualify tomorrow it will be a failure for us," midfielder Alex Witsel said. "We have a wonderful team. We should go to the quarterfinals.Ē

For the Americans, itís an opportunity to show the rest of the world they have arrived.

"We're not satisfied," USA captain Clint Dempsey said. "We want to go far in this World Cup. if we play to the best of our ability, we'll get a positive result."

The Seattle Sounders forward added that surviving Group G -- aka the Group of Death -- did wonders for the Americans' confidence.

"We also showed our character in those games, fighting to the end," he said. "At the same time we have to be switched on for 90-plus minutes. It's a different game now in the knockout stage. Anything can happen."

In the group stage, results from other matches could help competing teams. Now, teams are on their own. If the match is tied after 90 minutes, two 15-minute extra-time periods will be played. If the game is still deadlocked, penalty kicks will decide which team moves on.

In a contrast of extremes, the game will pit the team that has traveled the most miles in the Cup -- the USA (close to 10,000) against the side that has traveled the least -- Belgium (about 2,000).

"It's what we deal with all the time, whether itís the World Cup preparation or the qualifying games," Dempsey said. "We had one game in Jamaica and we then had one in Seattle. Players are playing overseas and have to travel back to the states. They're used to the long travel."

The Americans played their games in heat and humidity in the north, while the Belgians played in cooler venues in the south.

"We dealt with every condition during this World Cup," Dempsey said. "We're used to dealing with those (hot and humid) conditions during the qualifying process."

Wilmots didn't think the heat would favor any one team.

"We should not complain," he said. "Both teams will be suffering from the heat. We shouldn't look for excuses."
   
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