After days of political tension and off-pitch pranks between countries, the knockout stage has already arrived for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) at the World Cup – nothing less than a victory on Tuesday will be enough when he faces Iran in a winner-takes-all match.
Whichever team wins will reach the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022, and for the USMNT, even a draw would see them eliminated from the tournament.
It will be a game fraught with political tension as the two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since April 1980 following Iran’s takeover of the US embassy in November 1979 following the country’s Islamic revolution.
In the build-up to the game, Iranian state media called for the United States to be expelled from the 2022 World Cup after US Soccer changed the flag of Iran on its social media accounts to show support for protesters in Iran.
US Soccer told CNN it wanted to change the official flag for 24 hours to show “support for women in Iran fighting for basic human rights”, but still planned to revert to the original flag.
USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter distanced himself from these political undercurrents, saying his focus was 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 of the sport of football,” Berhalter told reporters after the game against England.
“I see the game being closely contested for the fact that both teams want a place in the next round, not because of politics.
“We are football players and we are going to compete and they are going to compete and that’s it.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz told a press conference on Monday that the USMNT were the best team in his group for the World Cup, but was not shy about issuing thinly veiled criticism of the United States.
“Either if you are talking about human rights, racism, children dying in schools by bullets, we stand in solidarity with all these causes. But here our mission is to make everyone smile for at least 90 minutes, that’s our mission,” he said.
The USMNT have drawn their two games so far – 1-1 against Wales after blowing a late lead, and 0-0 against an England side full of superstars.
Against England, the USMNT’s young “golden generation” faced their biggest test yet and looked to be the more threatening of the two teams for much of the game before withstanding late pressure from England.
There were a lot of positives for the United States in this game.
He showed tactical flexibility by changing to a 4-4-2, his defense held for the first shutout by a European opponent in the World Cup since 1950, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie dominated their England counterparts in midfield, while Christian Pulisic was just the creative playmaker his team needed.
Although the USMNT are currently ranked four places above Iran in the FIFA World Rankings, they will be wary of their opponent who kept their own World Cup qualification hopes alive with a dramatic 2- 0 against Wales on Friday.
Iran scored both goals in added 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 against backup goalie Danny Ward.
The result puts Iran’s World Cup back on track after being somewhat derailed by a 6-2 loss to England and showed a truer indication of the talent contained within the squad as they seek to reach the round of 16 of a World Cup for the first time. moment in its history.
“Now we have to be sure that we are good enough to go to the second round,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said after the game against Wales, according to Reuters.
“USA are also a brilliant team, as we saw against Wales.
“Our preparation starts with having a good rest, refreshing the minds and putting all the complementary and unnecessary things out of our minds and focusing on our goal because what we want to do is give this gift to the Iranian fans.”
Iran appears at the tournament under 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 Iranian morality police, allegedly for not respecting the country’s conservative dress code. . Iranian security forces have since unleashed a violent response to the protests.
During the playing of national anthems ahead of Iran’s opener against England on Monday, Iranian players remained silent in what was widely interpreted as a show of solidarity with those protesting at home, while the players sang the national anthem in their second game against Wales. , albeit discreetly.
A source involved in game security this week made a shocking admission: The families of Iranian players have been threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players don’t “behave” before the game against the United States on Tuesday.
Following their refusal to sing the country’s national anthem in their opener against England, the source said the players were called to a meeting with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, where they were told that their families would face “violence and torture”. if they did not sing the national anthem or join any political demonstration against the regime in Tehran.
Fans also weighed in on the domestic situation in Iran. Monday’s game between Portugal and Uruguay was briefly interrupted by a pitch invader waving a rainbow flag on the pitch at the iconic Lusail stadium and wearing a shirt with the words ‘RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMEN’ written on the back and “SAVE UKRAINE” written on the front.
In the other Group B game, England are looking to seal their almost certain place in the Round of 16 against Wales.
If England beat Wales, the USMNT would qualify in second place in the group provided they beat Iran; while if England lost, the USMNT would finish first.
Finishing second would make the Netherlands the most likely opponent, while finishing first would likely draw Ecuador or Senegal.
Netherlands vs Qatar: 10 p.m. ET
Ecuador vs Senegal: 10 p.m. ET
Wales vs England: 2 p.m. ET
Iran vs. USA: 2 p.m. ET
United States: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Brazil: Sport TV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC