U.S. players: Bring on Germany!

SEOUL, South Korea, AP

Bring on Germany!

In a World Cup where anything seems possible, the United States thinks it can beat the three-time champions and advance to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1930.

Four years ago, the Americans were tentative during a 2-0 first-round loss to the Germans in Paris. U.S. players say that won’t happen again.

“We can’t give them as much respect as we did then,” U.S. captain Claudio Reyna said Tuesday, a day after the Americans defeated Mexico 2-0 in the second round. “The difference is that in a knockout game, you have to be cautious and also go for it.”

Just after the start of the game at Parc des Princes in 1998, Germany’s Jens Jeremies kneed Reyna in the back during a throw-in. Reyna wasn’t a factor for the rest of the night.

“For about 25 minutes in that game, my back tightened up,” Reyna recalled. “It was a pretty hard challenge and I remember it. But it’s over. He’s a hard player and that’s the way he plays.”

Germany went ahead when Andreas Moeller scored off a corner kick in the ninth minute, then coasted and got a second goal from Juergen Klinsmann off a counterattack in the 65th. The difference between the teams was far greater than the score. The Germans looked like men toying with boys. Their fans, chanting “Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land!” throughout the game, were never in doubt of a victory. Neither were the German players.

“Nerves get to you a little bit,” U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk said that night. “They came out hard and strong, and we weren’t really ready for that.”

This time, the Americans vow to be different. They know they still have to prove themselves to much of the soccer world.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena sounded peeved after the Mexico game when the interviewer selected by FIFA asked him whether the Americans, who opened the tournament by upsetting fifth-ranked Portugal, were lucky to be in the quarterfinals.

“Luck? I wouldn’t call it luck,” Arena said. “We beat one of the top five teams in the world. We were the only team to take a point from the Koreans, the host team. And we beat a group winner (Mexico). We’ve had some impressive results in this World Cup.”

Still, the Americans regard Germany as a tougher foe than the Mexicans, whom they have beaten with some regularity and are familiar with from gritty World Cup qualifiers. They respect the Germans’ athletic ability, their relentless physical play and their professionalism.

“Germany’s the type of team, even when they don’t play well, they’ve been able to get results,” Reyna said. “We definitely have to be more aggressive, not necessarily in attacking, but in defending, be all over them.”

The Germans, who beat the United States 4-2 in an exhibition game in March, know the Americans, too. Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn looks at the U.S. team and sees characteristics of his own.

“They will be a very unpleasant rival,” he said. “They fight a lot, like us, and they are very patriotic guys who give everything for their country. We have to be very careful.”