(CNN) -

When the players line up on the field for the crucial U.S.-Germany match on Thursday, fans may see Jurgen Klinsmann's lips moving during both countries' national anthems.

Klinsmann coached the German national team in the 2006 World Cup. Eight years later, he's coaching Team USA.

In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann rubbed American soccer fans the wrong way with his frank early assessment that the team wasn't ready to win the championship.

He irked others when he brought on five German-born players while dropping Landon Donovan, Team U.S.A.'s all-time highest scorer.

But the team's successes under Klinsmann this year have silenced the grumbling, as they have fought their way through initial play in Group G against competitors with a reputation for being so tough that it has been nicknamed the "Group of Death."

If the U.S. pulls through to the next round Thursday, it will be as much due to the dogged determination of the players on the field as Klinsmann's coaching skills off it.

A national hero

Outside of the United States, Klinsmann is very well-known. In Germany, he's a household name, one of its brightest football stars.

He likes to tell his life's story from the start.

"I grew up in a family bakery where I saw my dad working long hours every day -- 12, 14, sometimes 16 hours -- and he barely could get sleep," Klinsmann said.

That work ethic is in his DNA, he said. And he stuck it into soccer at the earliest, signing his first pro contract at age 16.

By age 24, he became the top scorer in the German premiere league, the Bundesliga, and was celebrated as player of the year.

Two years later, in 1990, he played on the German national team, when it took its third World Cup trophy.

Klinsmann also played in the professional leagues of Italy, France and England.

In 1998, he retired from play and moved to California with his American wife, Debbie, whom he met, while she was working abroad in Europe.

Eight years later, Klinsmann practically became a national hero in his native Germany as its team's head coach, when the country hosted the 2006 World Cup.

He changed the way Germany played the game, teaching them to shed their conservative defense-minded approach for an aggressive offensive one.

Though he did not lead the team to the top prize -- they came in third -- something even more wonderful happened: Germany shed a layer of its dark historic burden.

Feeling despised for Nazi Germany's ruthlessness in World War II, flag-waving patriotism was a taboo for Germans. During the cup, global adoration poured in on them, and they broke out the flags to celebrate.

Klinsmann stood in the center of it all. Millions thanked him for his leadership. Fan crowds were dotted with signs reading: "Danke, Klinsi!"