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By Stefan Nicola
(c) 2014, Bloomberg News.

BERLIN – Ashley Ludaescher says she'll carry confidence with her when she paints the Stars and Stripes on her face and heads to an American craft brewery in Berlin to cheer on the United States in its World Cup soccer match against Germany.

"We're the underdog, but the way we've played so far shows that we can win," said Ludaescher, a 29-year-old photographer who grew up in California and has been living in Germany for six years. "All my American friends are excited."

(The U.S.-Germany match will be televised on ESPN at 11 a.m. Central Time on Thursday.)

The U.S.'s draw against Portugal and win over Ghana are making Ludaescher, and other fans among the 108,000 U.S. citizens in Germany, optimistic that America has a fighting chance against the three-time World Cup champions. Ben Rollman, a 35-year-old teacher from the U.S. who also lives in Berlin, knows exactly what Ludaescher is talking about.

Rollman, a self-described soccer fanatic, is flying to Brazil and will get three tickets for American fans to the U.S.'s next match should they advance.

"I actually have a lot riding on this game personally," said Rollman, who moved to Germany three years ago in part because of the country's soccer-crazed culture. "This game for me represents the chance to see the U.S. in the World Cup."

In Germany, the quadrennial event is as big as it gets. Every major city hosts public viewing venues for the matches, from the 3,000-seat beer garden at Stuttgart's 18th century castle to Berlin's Fanmeile, where as many as 100,000 people watch on giant screens near the Brandenburg Gate. Some 82 percent of the country's TV audience viewed the first game against Portugal and Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Brazil for the match.

Adidas, the world's second-biggest sporting-goods maker, has sold more than 2 million German jerseys this year, surpassing the previous record of 1.5 million bought in 2006 when Germany hosted the event. And locations like Munich's Hirschgarten are loading up on schnitzel, beer and potato salad.

"Interest in the World Cup is huge," said Johann Eichmeier, who runs the Hirschgarten and expects 8,000 fans for the U.S.-Germany showdown. "Ahead of the game, we're at capacity about three hours before the start."

While the U.S. team, led by former German coach Juergen Klinsmann, has gained respect from the country's fans, Ludaescher need look no further than her own German husband to find a naysayer.

"Germany will win because most of our players are experienced and play for top clubs in Europe," said Andreas Ludaescher, a 32-year-old accountant. "While the U.S. is a dangerous opponent if underestimated, we're tactically and individually better."

Germany and the U.S. both need at least a tie to ensure they're one of the 16 teams to advance to the next round. If the German team were to lose – and thus possibly be eliminated in the preliminary stage of the tournament for the first time in its 85-year history – it would have a fellow countrymen to thank for the pain.

Klinsmann, who as a fast-paced striker helped Germany win the World Cup in 1990 and the European Championship in 1996 – and coached the team to a third-place World Cup finish in 2006 – has brought five German players to the U.S.

"We used to smile at the U.S. team, but they have developed into a serious opponent," said Kevin Goldammer, who expects 200 fans to fill his wood-paneled pub in Hamburg for the game. "Hats off to Juergen Klinsmann for that."

Current German coach Joachim Loew worked under Klinsmann before getting the top post when Klinsmann stepped down, meaning two men who know each other well will face off against each other.

"It is a duel of the giants when Loew and Klinsmann meet on the sidelines of the pitch," said Ali Yagothi, who works as a security guard at Hamburg's 70,000-fan viewing venue near the red light district. "We expect even more people to join the public viewing area than at the first two Germany games."

German-Americans whom Klinsmann has brought to the U.S. include Jermaine Jones, who grew up in Frankfurt and played in Germany's top soccer league, and John Brooks, who was born and raised in Berlin. That's just fine with Americans in Germany, who note both men have scored for the U.S. during the first two matches of the tournament in Brazil.

"Players like Jones and Brooks give the U.S. side much- needed quality," said Jack Goodloe, a 32-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, who works for Adidas and lives in Nuremberg. "Not only to advance out of the group stages, but also to win during the knock-out rounds."

Goodloe, who has customized shoes for players from both national teams, will put on his U.S. jersey and head to a friend's place to watch the game with about 15 fans, mostly Americans, and eat steak and burgers.

While Klinsmann says he has no intention of talking to his old friend Loew about a draw, that's exactly the outcome that the Ludaeschers, the German-American couple, are hoping for because then both teams would advance to the next round. Rollman thinks a gentleman's agreement is unlikely.

"I see it as a chess match between two old friends who just want to win," he said.


Elisabeth Behrmann and Alex Webb in Munich and Nicholas Brautlecht in Hamburg contributed to this report.

 

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