Stakes are high for U.S. heading into World Cup match versus Iran

In four years with the US national team, Gregg Berhalter has coached 58 games, traveled tens of thousands of miles, auditioned dozens of players and completed too many training sessions to count.

All that work will now boil down to 90 minutes on Tuesday when the USA take on Iran in their final group match of the 2022 World Cup for a place in the knockout rounds. And the scenario couldn’t be simpler: win and USA go on, lose or draw and it’s home.

“It sounds kind of illogical to judge four years for a game, but that’s our business,” said Berhalter. “We said that this team will be judged on what we do at the World Cup. So that’s fine. We will take care of it.”

What the Americans have achieved so far in Qatar would probably get a ‘C’ on most reports: they’ve done just enough to make ends meet, going unbeaten and winless with Wales and England in the final group game. But they must bring their A game against Iran, the lowest-ranked team in the group but the only one standing between the US and the next round.

FILE - The branding will be on display near the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar on March 31, 2022

⚽ World Cup 2022 in Qatar

“It’s a knockout game for both teams,” he said. “So there’s going to be a high level of intensity.”

The USA have reached the round of 16 three times in the four previous World Cups they have played this century. To do so again, however, they must score and their only goal at this World Cup so far came 36 minutes into their first game against Wales. The Americans just fired another shot on goal.

Still, Carlos Queiroz, the former MLS coach who has guided Iran to three World Cups but won just two games, has done his best to dampen expectations of his side. Iran hasn’t gotten out of group play since 1978, the year before the country’s Islamic revolution.

“The team in this group that produced the top two performances was without a doubt the United States. They played two great and fantastic games,” he said.

Tuesday’s winner, he continued, would be the team that rises to the occasion.

“The moment the curtains open and you’re not ready to sing and dance, the gods of football can’t help you,” he said.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz speaks during a press conference on Monday.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz speaks during a news conference Monday ahead of the team’s World Cup match against the United States.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

For such an important game – or maybe because It’s such an important game – the pre-match press conference quickly got out of hand. In less than two weeks, the US team in Qatar was forced to answer questions about workers’ welfare and LGBTQ rights. On Monday, Iranian journalists took to the microphone to make lengthy political statements before asking Berhalter to explain the presence of US warships in the Persian Gulf and the state of the American economy.

Captain Tyler Adams, who is multiracial, was scolded for mispronouncing Iran and then asked why he was playing for the US given the country’s history of racism.

Both dodged the landmines skillfully and kept their focus on football, a subject the Iranians rarely touched upon.

“For us it’s a football game against a good team. And it’s not much more than that,” said Berhalter. “It’s a KO game. Both teams want to go to the next round. Both teams are desperate to win the next round. And that’s how we see this game.”

Iranians were upset that a handful of US Soccer social media posts over the weekend removed the Islamic Republic’s emblem from the Iranian flag. According to an association spokesman, this was done to “show support for women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” a nod to the millions of Iranians who took to the streets to protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini to protest. who died in police custody in September after being arrested for wearing her hijab incorrectly.

A woman holds up a sign that reads Mahsa Amini, the name of the woman who died in police custody in Iran.

A woman holds up a sign that reads Mahsa Amini, the name of the woman who died in police custody on Friday after a World Cup match between Iran and Wales in Qatar.

(Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

But Iranian state television said the US federation’s move was tantamount to “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag and called for the American team’s disqualification from the tournament. On Monday, Berhalter apologized but said the players and coaching staff were unaware of the social media posts.

As for the game, Berhalter said he wants his team to draw inspiration from the last time USA met Iran in a World Cup in 1998, a game Berhalter watched on Dutch television.

“That game just stuck in my memory,” he said. “What I saw from kick off is one team really wanted to win the game and one team didn’t really want to win the game. They played very committed, very focused.”

In 1998 that dedicated team was Iran, who won 2-1.

“For us to have a chance to progress,” said Berhalter on Monday, “that has to be the mindset of our group.” Stakes are high for U.S. heading into World Cup match versus Iran

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