After days of political tension and fiery taunts between countries, The knockout stages of the United States National Team (USMNT) are already in at the World Cup – nothing less than a win on Tuesday will suffice in a game all about victory , against Iran.
Whichever team wins will reach the Qatar 2022 round of 16, 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 ties since April 1980 following Iran’s takeover of the American Embassy in November 1979 following the country’s Islamic Revolution.
Ahead of the game, Iran’s state media called for the US to be excluded from the 2022 World Cup after US soccer changed the Iranian flag on its social media accounts to show its support for protesters in Iran.
US Soccer told CNN that it wanted to change the official flag for 24 hours to “show support for women in Iran who are fighting for basic human rights,” but always planned to return to the original flag.
USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter has shied away from these political undercurrents, stating his focus is solely on football.
“What’s special about football is that you meet so many different people from all over the world and share a common love of football,” Berhalter told reporters after the England game.
“I see the game as hotly contested because both teams want to get through to the next round, not because of politics.
“We’re football players and we’re going to compete and they’re going to compete and that’s it.”
Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz told a news conference Monday that the USMNT was the best team in their World Cup group, but didn’t shy away from thinly veiled criticism of the United States.
“Whether you are talking about human rights, racism or children dying in school shootings, we stand in solidarity with all of these causes. But here our mission is to make everyone smile for at least 90 minutes, that’s our mission,” he said.
So far, the USMNT have drawn both games – 1-1 against Wales after they took a late lead and 0-0 against a superstar-packed England side.
Against England, the young ‘golden generation’ of the USMNT faced their biggest test yet and appeared to be the more dangerous of the two sides for much of the game before resisting late pressure from England.
There were many bright spots for the USA in this game.
Showing tactical flexibility, switching to a 4-4-2 formation, its defense held for the first shutout by a European opponent at the World Cup since 1950, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie outplayed their English counterparts in midfield, while Christian Pulisic was in every way the creative playmaker his team needs from him.
Although USMNT currently sit four places above Iran in the FIFA World Rankings, they will be wary of their opponents, who are keeping their own hopes of qualifying for the World Cup alive with a dramatic 2-0 win over Wales on Friday Has.
Iran scored both goals well into injury time after Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey received a red card – the first being a brilliant 98th-minute strike from Rouzbeh Cheshmi, the second a lob from Ramin Rezaeian over substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward .
The result puts the Iran World Cup back on track after it was somewhat derailed by a 6-2 opening defeat by England and showed a clearer sign of the side’s talent as they attempt to advance to the knockout stages for the first time to achieve a World Cup time in its history.
“Now we have to be sure that we’re good enough to go through to the second round,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said after the Wales game, according to Reuters.
“USA are also a brilliant side like we saw against Wales.
“Our preparation starts with a good rest, refreshes the mind and puts all the supplementary and unnecessary things out of our minds and focuses on our goal, because we want to give this gift to the Iranian fans.”
Iran enters the tournament in the shadow of internal unrest after widespread protests were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police, allegedly for failing to conform had adhered to the country’s conservative dress code. Iranian security forces have since unleashed a violent response to the protests.
During the playing of the national anthems ahead of Iran’s opening game against England on Monday, the Iranian players remained silent in what was widely interpreted as a show of solidarity with protesters at home, while the players sang the national anthem, albeit on, in their second game against Wales muted way.
A source involved in the security of the games this week made a shocking admission: Iranian players’ families have been threatened with jail and torture if the players don’t “behave” ahead of Tuesday’s game against the US.
After refusing to sing the nation’s national anthem in their opening game against England, the source said the players were called to a meeting with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps where they were told their families “are facing violence and torture would” if they did not sing the national anthem or join a political protest against the Tehran regime.
Fans have also weighed on the domestic political situation in Iran. Monday’s game between Portugal and Uruguay was briefly interrupted by an intruder waving a rainbow flag on the field at Lusail Iconic Stadium and wearing a jersey that read “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back and “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front.
In the other Group B game, England will be looking to secure their near-certainty of a place in the knockout stages against Wales.
If England beat Wales, the USMNT would qualify for second place in the group provided they beat Iran. while if England loses, the USMNT would finish first.
Runner-up would make the Netherlands their most likely opponent, while first-place would likely draw Ecuador or Senegal.
Netherlands vs Qatar: 10pm ET
Ecuador vs Senegal: 10pm ET
Wales vs England: 2pm ET
Iran vs USA: 2pm ET
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC