It is not realistic to expect the United States to win the World Cup, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann reiterated to reporters in Brazil on Wednesday, while adding that he no longer sees the Americans as overmatched.
"You have to be realistic. Every year we are getting stronger," Klinsmann said. "We don't look at ourselves as underdogs. We are not. We are going to take the game to Ghana and they will take it to us and it will be an exciting game and then we go from there.
"For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic. If it is American or not, you can correct me," he said, reiterating comments he made this past December to The New York Times Magazine.
The U.S. opens Monday with a 6 p.m. ET match against Ghana in Natal in Group G, which also features Portugal and Germany.
Klinsmann said performance expectations for countries like Brazil and Germany are completely different than those of the United States at the World Cup level.
"The whole country (Brazil) will now be in the stadiums to watch their Selecao. They expect the title," he said. "If you coach Germany they expect a title. There is not discussion how far you can go, your goals."
Landon Donovan, who missed the cut for the U.S. 23-man roster during training camp last month, said he disagreed with Klinsmann's philosophy and cited the rallying cry of the U.S. supporters' group.
"This will come as a surprise to nobody, but I don't agree with Jurgen," said Donovan, who has joined ESPN as an analyst for the World Cup. "As someone who's been in that locker room, and has sat next to the players, we agree with the American Outlaws -- 'We believe that we will win.' I think that's the way Americans think. I think that's the sentiment."
Donovan also said if the Americans can get out of the group stage, there's no reason they can't win the entire tournament.
"If we're really expected to go out and beat Portugal and beat Ghana and beat Germany, in my opinion, Germany is one of the best teams in the world, if you can beat Germany, why can't you beat anybody else?," Donovan said. "It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but I believe. I think all of America believes it. We can do it."
U.S. defender Geoff Cameron also disagreed with Klinsmann's comments.
"Let the doubters doubt. That's why Americans are Americans," he said. "We like to be the underdogs and challenge big things.
"The sky is the limit for us," he said. "Things happen. Miracles happen. This team might not be as talented as Spain, as Brazil but they can make it farther than people thought. All 23 guys believe the same thing. We can turn heads."
The former coach for Germany said he has told his players, "This is your opportunity, embrace it," adding that the players are ready to face Ghana.
"It's a team full of individual talent, with players that can hurt you in a split second if you're not awake," Klinsmann said. "That's good that way. I think for us it's a great opportunity to start the tournament with. Obviously we have been training for a month, so we are really focused."
U.S. veteran Michael Bradley said he would not read too much into Klinsmann's comments.
"It's up to each person to take what they want from that," he said. "I look at it all pretty simply. Every team starts on zero points. Every team has three games to show they can get out of the group. If you are able to pass, then it is knockout games. We have seen time and time again over 90 minutes, anything can happen. Our first goal is now taking care of business. We expect to be in a position where we can get out of this group and then we take it one game at a time. More than that? Does it make sense to think about it in any way other than that?"
Klinsmann also said he's happy to see Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo back on the field, but all of his focus at the moment is on the June 16 opener against Ghana.
"Those special players, that's what the fans want to see in Brazil," said Klinsmann about watching Portugal's 5-1 victory over Ireland on Tuesday, one in which Ronaldo went 65 minutes in his first action since last month's UEFA Champions League final. "Our job is to stop him once the game comes across in beautiful Manaus. We'll figure out ways to make it really miserable for him. But this is the second before the first step. The first step is Ghana."
Klinsmann took in Ghana's 4-0 win against South Korea before arriving in Brazil on Tuesday morning. And the U.S. manager has talked of little else besides the Black Stars since the team met up back on May 14.
"I wanted to see [Ghana] myself and get a good impression there," he said. "We have that...We know about their strengths and we also know about their weaknesses. And we know about our strengths and what we need to improve still."
Ghana has knocked the U.S. out of the past two World Cups, beating the Americans in the final group-stage game in 2006, and then repeating the feat in the round of 16 four years later.
"Now it's our job to turn this around and get those three points right from the beginning," Klinsmann said. "The respect you have to have for every opponent in this tournament is a no-brainer. Ghana is No. 1 or 2 in Africa."
As is his habit, Klinsmann was full of optimism in terms of the Americans' group-stage prospects.
"Every game is the next step to a bigger goal," he said. "We are not shying away from anybody, but first we've got to make it through the group. So let's stay with our feet on the ground and say 'Let's get that group first done.' Then the sky is the limit. But before...to say that we should win the World Cup, that's just not realistic."
Cameron said the players remain optimistic.
"We've put the hard work in for the last three weeks," he said. "We leave it all on the field every single day."