After days of political tension and fiery off-field jokes between the countries, the knockout phase has already begun for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) at the World Cup – nothing short of a win on Tuesday will suffice as it takes on Iran in a winner-takes-all match.
Whichever team wins will reach the round of 16 in Qatar 2022, and for the USMNT even a draw would see it eliminated from the tournament.
It will be a contest fraught with political tension as the two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since April 1980 following the Iranian takeover of the US embassy in November 1979 following the Islamic Revolution in the country.
Ahead of the game, Iranian state media called for the US to be expelled from the 2022 World Cup after US football changed the Iranian flag on their social media accounts to show support for the protesters in Iran.
US Soccer told CNN it wanted to change the official flag for 24 hours to “show support for the women of Iran fighting for basic human rights,” but always planned to revert to the original flag.
USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter eschewed these political undercurrents, saying his focus is solely on football.
“The thing about football is that you meet so many different people from all over the world and you are united by the common love for the sport of football,” Berhalter told reporters after the England game.
“I see that there is a lot of fighting over the fact that both teams want a place in the next round, not because of politics.
“We are footballers and we are going to fight and they are going to fight and that’s all.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz told a press conference on Monday that the USMNT is the best team in their World Cup group, but did not shy away from thinly veiled criticism of the US.
“Whether you talk about human rights, racism, children dying in schools with shootings, we stand in solidarity with all those causes. But here our mission is to bring a smile to all people for at least 90 minutes, that’s our mission,” he said.
So far the USMNT have drawn both games: 1-1 against Wales after taking the lead late on, and 0-0 against a superstar England side.
Against England, the young “golden generation” of the USMNT faced their biggest test to date and looked to be the most threatening of the two teams for most of the match before holding out against England’s late pressure.
There were many bright spots for the US in that game.
It showed tactical flexibility by switching to a 4-4-2 formation, the defense held on for the first shutout of a European opponent at the World Cup since 1950, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie defeated their England counterparts at the midfield, while Christian Pulisic was in every way the creative playmaker his team expected him to be.
While currently four places above Iran in the FIFA world rankings, the USMNT will be wary of its opponent who kept their own World Cup qualification hopes alive with a dramatic 2-0 win against Wales on Friday.
Iran scored both goals deep into stoppage time after Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was shown a red card – the first a brilliant strike from Rouzbeh Cheshmi in the 98th minute, and the second a chip from Ramin Rezaeian over substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward.
The result put Iran’s World Cup back on track after it was somewhat derailed by a 6-2 opening defeat to England. time in its history.
“Now we have to make sure we are good enough to go through to the second round,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said after the Wales game, according to Reuters.
“The USA is also a brilliant team, as we saw them against Wales.
“Our preparation starts with a good rest, refreshing the mind and putting all the complementary and nonsense things outside our heads and focusing on our goal, because what we want to do is give this gift to Iranian fans.”
Iran is appearing at the tournament in the shadow of domestic unrest following widespread protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran’s morality police, reportedly for failing to adhere to the conservative dress code of the country. . Iranian security forces have since unleashed a violent response to the protests.
While playing the national anthems for Iran’s opening game against England on Monday, the Iranian players fell silent in what was widely interpreted as a show of solidarity with those protesting at home as the players sang the national anthem in their second game against Wales, they it in an understated way.
A source involved in security at the games this week made a shocking admission: The Iranian players’ families have been threatened with jail and torture if the players don’t “behave” ahead of Tuesday’s game against the US.
Following their refusal to sing the country’s national anthem in their opening match against England, the source said the players were summoned to meet with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, where they were told their families would face “violence and torture”. if they did not sing the national anthem or if they participated in a political protest against Tehran’s regime.
Fans have also weighed in on the domestic situation in Iran. Monday’s game between Portugal and Uruguay was briefly interrupted by a field invader waving a rainbow flag on the pitch of the Lusail Iconic Stadium and wearing a shirt with the words “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back and “SAVE UKRAINE” on the back. rear end. the frontside.
In the other game in Group B, England seem to secure their almost certain place in the knockout phase against Wales.
If England beat Wales, the USMNT would qualify second in the group, provided it beat Iran; while if England loses, the USMNT would finish first.
Finishing second would make the Netherlands the most likely opponent, while finishing first would probably be Ecuador or Senegal.
Netherlands vs Qatar: 10pm ET
Ecuador vs Senegal: 10pm ET
Wales vs England: 2pm ET
Iran vs US: 2pm ET
USA: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC