Copa America 2016

Klinsmann talks up US' prospects as Messi eyes Argentina victory

HOUSTON • Jurgen Klinsmann is daring to dream that the United States can pull off mission improbable in the Copa America Centenario semi-finals today as the hosts face a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina closing in on a long-awaited tournament triumph.

The US coach has already met his pre-tournament goal of reaching the last four after helping his side navigate a challenging group phase and an awkward quarter-final against in-form Ecuador.

But, despite a raft of suspensions which will decimate his first-choice starting line-up at Houston's NRG Stadium, Klinsmann is bullishly talking up his team's chances as they prepare to take on the might of Argentina.

The German World Cup winner cites his team's impressive record in recent friendlies, which has included away wins over Germany and the Netherlands, and their performances in the 2014 World Cup as reasons to believe.

"There's no reason at all why we can't win the Copa America," Klinsmann said on Sunday. "We travelled the world the last few years to very difficult friendly games all over Europe and in Mexico and we came away with victories.

"Anything is possible in knockout games. You're 50-50 with whoever you play against. Dream big - why not? This is about two more games."

Privately, however, Klinsmann will be attempting to solve the puzzle caused by the suspensions of influential midfielder Jermaine Jones, wide player Alejandro Bedoya and the Hamburg-bound striker Bobby Wood.

All three have played a pivotal role in the US campaign. Wood has provided the speed and thrust in attack which has created the space for veteran Clint Dempsey to thrive, while Jones is a towering presence in the heart of midfield.

Although Klinsmann has urged his team to shed their underdog mentality, insisting he wants them to be bold against more heralded opponents, a gung-ho approach against the mighty Argentinians could prove to be disastrous.

Relentless US pressing could open up play and create opportunities for Argentina, who have amassed 14 goals in four games.

Argentina star Lionel Messi, though, cautions that facing the US on home turf may not be as straightforward as it seems.

"We're on the right track, but it will be very difficult playing in front of the American crowd.

"Physically they are a very strong team and they can do a lot of damage if they are allowed to play," warned the superstar forward.

Yet, it is hard to see anything other than an Argentina victory, which would leave Gerardo Martino's side 90 minutes away from ending a 23-year wait for a major title.

"It is clear that I want to win something with my country and I want to do everything I can to make that happen," said Messi.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

USA V ARGENTINA
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Klinsmann talks up US' prospects as Messi eyes Argentina victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe