Yet another draw on the final day of Group B action on Tuesday won’t do any good. The US (2 points) must beat Iran (3 points) to reach the top two and advance to the round of 16. In case of loss or draw, this World Cup adventure is over.
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When the 32-team tournament began, breaking out of the group was the threshold for modest success after missing the 2018 tournament and injecting young players into the roster. Now the Americans are ready for their first mission.
“We don’t think too much about it,” defender Tim Rehm said. “We won, we got in.”
England (4 points) lead their group and will be in first place if they beat Wales (1 point). A draw would also ensure progress to the next stage. The only way the Three Lions can’t finish first or second is if they lose to the Dragons by an unbalanced scoreline and waste their huge goal difference (the first tiebreaker).
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England’s result against Wales, however, will not affect the American cause. This is a three point or bust.
“It’s clear now,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter. “Anytime you’re at a World Cup and you go into the last group game and control your destiny, that’s a very good thing.”
The last time the U.S. team was in such a World Cup predicament was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. That game also started with two draws, one against England. Needing three points in the group final against Algeria, the U.S. was on the precipice of elimination when Landon Donovan scored one of the most famous goals in U.S. football history — a desperate full-time in stoppage time The team surged, sparking wild celebrations on the field. Pretoria pitch and home.
From the archives: Landon Donovan’s goal means Americans moving forward
The 2022 squad is packed full of players in their teens and early twenties, and when they are asked to recount their first or best World Cup memory, that moment is the one most often cited. Donovan is now part of the Fox Sports announcement team in Qatar.
“Hopefully it’s not as dramatic as that goal,” captain Tyler Adams, 23, said of Tuesday’s prospects. “I don’t want to stay till the end.”
They left it to the last game and there was no room for error because they didn’t score. Defensively, they were excellent and conceded only one penalty. But the scoring drought that plagued them in a tight World Cup qualifier has worsened since the summer.
“Sometimes, we want to go deeper and put the ball in front of goal and give them real trouble,” Berhalter said on Friday. “But you know, it’s not easy to aim at this level.”
It is not easy for them to face all kinds of opponents. The U.S. has lost four of its past seven games and scored once — against Grenada, top of the table. FIFA ranked 173rd.
Another hollow show will send them home.
An ambitious first-half performance against Wales saw Tim Weah score and Christian Pulisic a brilliant assist. The second half was tough.
The United States created more high-quality chances than England on Friday, a surprising development given lingering problems in the United States and England’s 6-2 win over Iran four days earlier. Again, though, the Americans missed the finishing touch.
The Three Lions have been criticized for their performances. The headline in The Sun was “America’s Yawn”. The Daily Mail proclaimed, “Boring, boring England!” The Evening Standard called it a “reality check as England are second only to America in reducing World Cup draws”.
Berhalter didn’t call Friday’s game a huge success because “you need to score to win games and we didn’t get that.”
“We got close many times and we put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “We want to keep improving in this tournament and that’s our aim.”
No pun intended, Berhalter swapped strikers in his only squad change since the Wales game: Haji Wright for Josh Sargent. One of 10 shots against England was on target, and that doesn’t include Pulisic’s shot over the crossbar.
“If you create 100 chances, at least one of them ends up going in,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, who wasted a golden chance in the first half. “The most important thing is we create opportunities and we can be a threat. That’s only going to build.”
Americans, too, will have to emulate Iran’s spirit on Tuesday. Merry’s side bounced back from their disaster against England with high energy and unbridled belief in a 2-0 win over 10-man Wales. Both goals came in second-half stoppage time and were just payoffs after attacking with passion throughout the afternoon and two quick strikes in quick succession amid the chaos of the second half.
Iranians are also dealing with unrest at home and the arrest of prominent player Voria Ghafouri for protesting against the regime in Tehran. (He is not in the World Cup squad.)
Iran World Cup victory sparks joy, but tensions over protests remain
Since the World Cup draw in April, the U.S.-Iran match has become more than a sporting event but a clash of political foes. On Friday, Berhalter played down that.
“I played in three different countries and I coached in Sweden,” he said. “The thing about football is that you meet so many different people from all over the world and are united by a common love for the game. I envision the match being intense as both teams want to advance to the next round Compete, not because of politics or relations in our country. We are footballers, we are going to compete. They are going to compete, that’s all.”
Qatar World Cup
Newest: The United States drew 0-0 with England in their second World Cup game on Friday to take on Iran in the group stage final. Read highlights from Group B matches.
Political Protest: With Iran’s World Cup campaign looming against the backdrop of a nationwide protest movement against its clerical leadership, the inevitable and ongoing tension is spilling over onto the pitch.
emphasize: Saudi Arabia’s victory over Argentina on Tuesday, and now Brazil’s win over Serbia was a spectacle in the 73rd minute. Richarlison’s goal miracle cemented Brazil’s 2-0 opening win.
view: Nice game just fine. A suitcase full of cash is better. Read Sally Jenkins about the human rights controversy in Qatar.