Germany coach Joachim Loew isn't sure his team's extra day of rest this week makes up for the months-long scheduling advantage his friend, Jurgen Klinsmann, has had with the U.S. team.
On the eve of Germany's last Group G match against the United States on Thursday, Loew expressed admiration for the relentless physical play the American squad has brought to its first two World Cup matches in hot, humid Brazil.
Loew also suggested the Major League Soccer schedule, which is shorter than those of European leagues and starts after the winter, helped Klinsmann get his team in exceptional physical condition for World Cup play in June.
"We have to be very well prepared, in physical terms," to play the Americans, Loew said.
Both teams are coming off 2-2 draws. Germany was held by Ghana on Saturday, while the U.S. saw a victory slip away in the last-minute of injury time against Portugal the following night.
The U.S. has "this aggressiveness that we've seen in this tournament in their two games. They're very well prepared. They're very fit," Loew said. "They might have had an advantage in that their league doesn't last 11 months. Jurgen had his team in January and they were working together since then. This is an advantage. That's why they're at an excellent physical level."
Loew's assessment doesn't necessarily apply across the U.S. squad. Of the 23 Americans Klinsmann brought to Brazil, 11 play in MLS. Most of the rest earn their living in Europe, in the same leagues as most German players. In addition, while Clint Dempsey plays for Seattle, he spent part of last winter on loan to Fulham in England.
U.S. & World
Still, Loew sees the U.S. team's fitness as one of its overall strengths.
"Their matches really showed great involvement and pressure all the time in the game against Ghana and also against Portugal," Loew said. "You have a team with very strong technical players and this will require a lot from us."
Fortunately for Loew, he'll have a full complement of players at his disposal, despite having defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Sami Khedira come off the field last weekend.
Boateng left after the first half with a sore left thigh, while Khedira was replaced due to a left knee problem in the 70th minute.
Loew said both were training by Monday but stopped short of confirming they, or anyone else, would be in Thursday's starting lineup.
"There's a lot of supposition about the lineup; who's going to replace whom," Loew said. "We have different solutions. We have different types of players. We have different ways of playing."
One player Loew has stuck with so far is midfielder Mesut Ozil, coming off a disappointing campaign with Arsenal. He scored five goals in 26 Premier League appearances after the English club paid a transfer fee of about $68 million to acquire him from Real Madrid. With Arsenal, Ozil plays in the midfield, from where he can spearhead attacks and distribute the ball, but Loew has placed Ozil on the right flank.
Ozil has produced one shot on goal through two games and has yet to score.
"I'm very happy with the two matches I played," Ozil said. "I still need to score goals, but I am very happy with my performance. I know what I can contribute and I'm going to show that.
"Everybody knows I'm a playmaker. That's my favorite position, but the coach decides the system," Ozil continued. "Now I'm playing on the right — I played on the right a lot in the past as well — and at this position I don't have all the freedom of a defensive midfielder, but that's not an excuse."