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Jurgen Klinsmann refuses to let U.S. rest on its laurels after Ghana win

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

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SAO PAULO – Jurgen Klinsmann looked neither tired nor jetlagged nor overwhelmed by uncertainty from a rash of injuries and a dangerous opponent and another long road game on Sunday, this time in the middle of the Amazon.

No, there was none of that after a brief, late-afternoon training and rehab session here. The American coach isn't the type for rattling, at least not outwardly.

Instead, he looked like a man facing a challenge he'd hope would come. Here, for Klinsmann, is a chance at changing the core culture and long-term possibilities of U.S. Soccer by taking a dramatic, inspiring, hard-fought, bandwagon-filling victory and reminding his team about how profoundly pathetic it would be to bask in the glow of such a thing.

The U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 on Monday in World Cup group play and if over-celebrating victories in group play is what American soccer wants to be about, then it has the wrong coach. Boy, does it have the wrong coach.

"We've switched gears already," Klinsmann said. "Our total focus is on Portugal now. Ghana is far away from us already … since last night already."

[Related: Klinsmann gets reward for global recruitment strategy ]

This is the next step for Klinsmann. Beating Ghana set the Americans up to get out of the group. It gave some credibility to his overhaul of the system, three years in the making. It electrified the public back home.

Now the real work begins, though.

The U.S. has had these big results before. In 2002, it beat Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16. In 2010, it found a thrilling late goal against Algeria to get out of group play. Momentum soon faded. Ghana is nothing new. What comes next might be.

Four years ago, working as an ESPN analyst, Klinsmann was critical of how the U.S. responded emotionally from the charged victory and the huge reaction back home to the result against Algeria. It went out and lost to Ghana in the next game.

Act like you've been there before, he's saying. If nothing else, the coach has.

[Related: With Jurgen Klinsmann's confidence comes U.S. team's swagger ]

The 49-year-old won a World Cup for West Germany as a player in 1990. In 2006, he took over as coach of the unified German team and led it to an unexpected third-place finish. Beating Ghana was fun to enjoy – for about an hour.

"There were a lot of smiles obviously in the locker room, and then the Vice President [Joe Biden] came in and said hi as well and that makes everybody proud a little bit, and then really [we] just move on," Klinsmann said. "On the plane [which took off just after the game], it was very quiet."

"We only talk now about how we can beat this Portuguese team with all of these amazing players that they have," he continued. "This is our goal and we believe in it. We believe that we can go to Manaus and beat them."

This is the stuff he loves, changing the paradigm and poking at his players. Monday was a big night for U.S. Soccer. Or at least it used to be.

Klinsmann is well aware that the challenges ahead are considerable and with that the possible excuses pile up in front of the Americans. It's everything from physical injuries to upcoming playing conditions to the psychological state of their opponent.

The Americans arrived at the World Cup in near full health. That ended quickly.

Jozy Altidore, their most physical and potentially dangerous offensive threat, is now possibly lost for the tournament due to a hamstring strain. Klinsmann still expressed hope for a return, perhaps even against Portugal, but that is likely gamesmanship as much as anything. Don't count on it.

Clint Dempsey has a nasal fracture and will probably end up playing with a mask, which helps, but only so much, and could affect him in other ways. Defender Matt Besler left the game with his own hamstring problem, although he'll be fine, Klinsmann said. The question is for how long.

[Related: Clint Dempsey leads by example after playing through pain ]

There is any number of other ailments after a rugged contest played in the heat and humidity of Natal, a beach town just 400 miles from the equator. There is a school of thought at this World Cup that teams that must compete in the northern stadiums, rather than the cooler ones in Sao Paulo and Rio in the southern part of the country, might pay over the long haul.

Now the U.S. must head to the remote city of Manaus, which sits in the heart of the Amazon rain forest and promises to be hotter and more humid (forecast: mid-80s, possible thunderstorms). There was endless complaining about the drain of such conditions after Saturday's game between England and Italy, with Italian star Mario Balotelli deeming it "extreme" and both coaches wishing timeouts were allowed for player safety.

This is one reason the American team was allowed, upon its 4:30 a.m. arrival at their hotel here, to sleep in past noon Tuesday and only the reserves participated in any on-field training during a fairly brief practice. The starters lifted weights, hit the whirlpool and got treatment.

[Related: U.S. turns attention to weekend match against Portugal ]

Then there is Portugal, which was whipped 4-0 by Germany in its opener and despite being without top defender Pepe due to a red card, is potentially fired up by the embarrassment. The U.S. needs at least a draw.

Klinsmann didn't seem interested in any of that, though. He carries himself with supreme confidence, perhaps even a hint of disdain at both potential excuses and any celebration in the scope of a paltry history.

Everything has to be about the here and now, the task at hand, which Tuesday meant recovery and preparation.

Maybe it's hot. Maybe it's not. Maybe the Portuguese are focused. Maybe they aren't. Maybe Altidore can play. Maybe he can't. The answer is within Klinsmann's team, the Americans who need to seize their destiny by quickly forgetting what it just accomplished.

There is no yesterday, no Ghana to discuss, just as there are no potential excuses ahead. There is just the present. This is the way the great national teams do it. This isn't how the Americans have in the past.

"We'll make it very, very difficult for Portugal in Manaus," Klinsmann promised. "We'll find solutions."

Leave the partying and backslapping and congratulating to everyone back home.

Jurgen Klinsmann has a game to win.

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