DOHA: The United States and Iran, diplomatic rivals for more than 40 years, clash on the football pitch on Tuesday, their places at the World Cup on the line in a fitting finale for the most politically charged group at this year’s tournament.
The national team coaches sidestepped the icy bilateral relations, saying they were focused on the tournament and its ability to bring people together.
Washington and Tehran severed diplomatic relations in 1980 after the Islamic revolution. Ties have been strained in recent years when then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of an Iran nuclear deal. The United States killed a top Iranian general in 2020 and Tehran responded with missile strikes at US forces based in Iraq.
“I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round, not because of politics or because of relations between our countries,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter.
Iran’s dramatic 2-0 win over Wales and the US team’s tense goalless stalemate against England on Friday set up a tantalising final round of Group ‘B’ matches.
England, sitting top with four points, face bottom side Wales, meaning the Iran-United States contest will decide which team goes through to the round of 16.
The eagerly awaited meeting is a rematch of the 1998 World Cup group stage contest, dubbed the “mother of all games”, which Iran won 2-1. In a symbolic moment before that match at Lyon’s Stade Gerland, the Iranian players gave white roses, a symbol of peace in the country, to their American opponents.Berhalter, whose exuberant side drew 1-1 with Wales in their group opener, described the match as his team’s “first knockout game” of the World Cup and was wary of the threat posed by Iran after their second-half assault against Wales.
“Now we need to be sure that we are good enough to go to the second round,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said after his team kept alive their hopes of a first ever trip to the knockout stage.
“The US is a brilliant team as well, as we saw them against Wales.
“Our preparation starts with a good rest, refresh the minds and put all the complementary and garbage things outside of our minds and focus on our goal, because what we want to do is to give this gift to Iranian fans.”
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022