By Erik Kirschbaum
DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - After stunning away wins over two European superpowers, U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann's "get-tough" policy of taking on the world's best appears to be vindicated as his side can look to the next World Cup without an inferiority complex.
The U.S. came from behind twice in the last five days to beat the Netherlands 4-3 on Friday and then World Cup winners Germany 2-1 on Wednesday.
"Now you suddenly face Germany or Holland or Switzerland in the World Cup and there's no fear any more," Klinsmann told Reuters.
The former Germany striker has gone out of his way to schedule friendlies against difficult opponents in order to raise his team's game and hopes the tough competition will help at next month's Gold Cup.
"There's still respect for the big teams. You always have respect. But there's not too much respect anymore," he said.
"I think psychologically it was really important for our players to see that we can play against top teams like Netherlands and Germany. We're not coming to Europe just to defend. We're here to take a game to them and see what happens."
Klinsmann, who coached Germany from 2004 to 2006 before taking over the U.S. job in 2011, knows it is a perilous business to fill the calendar with matches against the very best as poor results could give ammunition to critics.
"The only way to get better is to play against the better teams," he said in an interview in Duesseldorf. "Going against big teams on a regular basis is valuable in helping the players understand what it takes to go eye-to-eye against the best."
Klinsmann, who sang both the U.S. and Germany national anthems before the match in Cologne, faced some criticism after his team suffered 3-2 losses against Denmark and Chile.
The merits of friendlies are relative. To some they matter a lot; to others they are next to meaningless. For Klinsmann the experience is precious while results are secondary.
"The information you get out of these games is so valuable that it's definitely worth taking the risks of not getting results," said Klinsmann, whose team have a 3-1-1 record this year against five teams ranked in FIFA’s top 20.
Klinsmann has set a lofty goal of reaching the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and Americans hope to one day win it. Many might have laughed at that once. But not any more.
The U.S. have now beaten Germany in two of their last three matches over the last three years but lost the one that mattered most in last year's World Cup, 1-0. Both advanced from the
"Group of Death" but the U.S. were eliminated by Belgium.
"When I look back at the World Cup, I think we had too much respect for Germany and maybe even for Belgium," he said.
Klinsmann said tough matches gave Americans a chance to feel the pressure, something the North American-based players might not experience as regularly as his European-based players.
He said his players are in good form ahead of the Gold Cup which the U.S. co-host with Canada.
"We feel well-prepared but it's going to be tricky because we'll most likely be playing against very defensive minded teams, especially in the group phase," he said.
(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Toby Davis and Justin Palmer)