U.S.' Jurgen Klinsmann: Argentina not automatic winner of every game

HOUSTON -- If Jurgen Klinsmann needs to convince his United States players that mighty Argentina is beatable, all he has to do is show them the South American World Cup qualifying standings.

The U.S. coach will lead his team into Tuesday's Copa America Centenario semifinal at sold-out NRG stadium against Lionel Messi and the top-ranked Albiceleste, and while the tournament hosts are the clear underdogs in the match, Klinsmann is convinced his squad can pull off the upset.

After all, this is virtually the same Argentina team that lost at home to Ecuador and played Paraguay to a scoreless draw -- the sides the U.S. beat in their past two Copa games -- in qualifiers last October.

"It's not that they win every game -- they lose games as well," Klinsmann said at Monday's prematch news conference. "And when they lose games, they make mistakes.

"It will be a fascinating game. This is a wonderful opportunity for our players to show themselves."

All week, Klinsmann has insisted that his team is relishing the chance to play an opponent of Argentina's caliber. He's said his players have no fear. But if there is one thing the German is concerned about, it's complacency inside his own locker room.

They may have already met his pre-tournament target of reaching the competition's final four, but the latest message is that it isn't the time to rest on that achievement.

"If you're now one bit content, you're going to get that lesson that we just talked about," he said, referring to Mexico's 7-0 quarterfinal loss to Chile.

"What you want to tell the players is there's no split second to relax here. It's actually the opposite. You have to step it up even further."

Even then, it won't be easy. The U.S. is missing three key starters in the suspended Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones and Bobby Wood. Jones was issued a red card in last week's quarterfinal win against the Ecuadorans, while Wood picked up his second yellow.

The U.S. protested both decisions, but their appeals were denied late Sunday night. The decision didn't surprise Klinsmann.

"We tried it," he said. "We'll take it the way it is."

The "way it is" also involves trying to stop Messi, widely considered the best player of his generation. As a player, Klinsmann played often against another iconic Argentina No. 10, Diego Maradona. He even helped West Germany beat Maradona and Co. in the 1990 World Cup final.

"It's now Messi's time," Klinsmann said. "When I had the opportunity to play many games against Maradona, it was Maradona's time. We all admire these type of players. But there are also ways to stop them. There are ways to play against these wonderful players.

"At the end of the day it's two teams playing against each other. I think it's a lot now down to confidence, confidence in yourself and take it to another level now."