United States: The World Cup returns to the political arena

United States: The World Cup returns to the political arena
Iran’s national team coach, Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz, supervises a training session ahead of the soccer World Cup match against the United States on November 28, 2022 in Doha (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

The poster does not promise to be the pinnacle of football, but the match between Iran and the United States on Tuesday will be one of the highlights of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where much more is at stake than qualifying for the round of 16.

Until this duel (8:00 pm), the determination of the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations, has only faced off twice in the history of football.

If the tie in a friendly match in 2000 (1-1) is forgotten as quickly as it was played, the other rival remains in the memory: the “brothers match”, which Iran won during the 1998 World Cup in France 2 to 1 in. Glowing atmosphere in Lyon.

The meeting took place in the context of a thaw between the West and the Islamic Republic, a year after the moderate Muhammad Khatami was elected president, and the meeting was an occasion for signs of brotherhood between the two groups that mixed together in the official situation. Match picture presenting flowers and bunting.

The context was even more tense this year, against the backdrop of an unprecedented protest movement that was bloodily suppressed by the Islamist regime.

Relentless scrutiny

Iranian players play World Cup matches under the scrutiny of the whole world, without football having anything to do with this heavy curiosity. Before each of their first two meetings, they had to answer the same questions, sometimes asked very insistently by Western media.

Will they refrain from chanting their anthem to show their support for the demonstrators as they did against England and not against the Welsh? Will they celebrate their goals? Will they make symbolic gestures to denounce oppression?

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United States coach Greg Berhalter holds a press conference prior to the soccer World Cup match against Iran on November 28, 2022 in Doha.
United States coach Greg Berhalter holds a press conference ahead of the soccer World Cup match against Iran on November 28, 2022 in Doha (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)

Many players, including the star Sardar Azmoun, one of the heroes of the victory over Wales in the previous match (2-0), denounced the repression on social media. But many of the protesters’ supporters criticize Milli’s team for its stance, such as when the ultra-conservative President Ibrahim al-Raisi greeted him before leaving for Doha.

Other highly commented photos, those of police ostensibly celebrating victory over Wales, were greeted by a tweet from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Believing his players are stuck in a situation where no matter what they do, they will be blamed, their Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, seems to have accepted the role of a thunderbolt for criticism and tried to reduce the game to its only sporting dimension.

It’s a big deal: a draw could be enough to ensure Iran qualified for the first time in its history in the round of 16 of the World Cup, for its sixth participation.

World Cup 2022: Iran vs USA
World Cup 2022: Iran-USA (Sabrina Blanchard/AFP)

But the United States, which is desperate for victory to pass this round, brought geopolitics back to the pre-match discussions.

On its Twitter account, Team USA removed the symbol of the Islamic Republic from the Iranian flag used to announce the match, “in a one-time gesture to show our solidarity with the women of Iran.” Then the official flag was handed over.

“We don’t care what goes on away from home and the only thing we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and the management. We were not involved in that.” , confirmed, on the science issue coach Greg Berhalter.

British poster

In the same group, the other match is played at the same time, and presents a British poster, with England as big favorites against Wales. The former almost qualifies and will take first place in the group if he wins. The Welsh need a miracle to extend their stay.

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World Cup 2022: Wales vs England
World Cup 2022: Wales v England (Sabrina Blanchard/AFP)

In Group A, Qatar, the host country, was eliminated, and its Dutch rival, who had not lost in 17 matches, would achieve victory as the only goal not only for qualification but also for first place (4:00 p.m.).

If this must be the case, which seems the most likely scenario, Ecuador and Senegal will be fighting for the second ticket. South America only needs a draw, but it remains hanging on the fate of its divine striker Ener Valencia, who scored all three goals for his team against Qatar (2-0) and the Netherlands (1-1), but was injured in the match. The end of this game.

Having reached optimism and dreams of glory, the African champions will have to win. An early return to the Dakar would be a huge disappointment for Aliou Cisse’s team.

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About the Author: Germano Álvares

"Desbravador de cerveja apaixonado. Álcool alcoólico incurável. Geek de bacon. Viciado em web em geral."

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