Iran vs USA – A Battle Beyond Football: FIFA WC 2022

Iran vs USA – A Battle Beyond Football: FIFA WC 2022

When Iran takes on the USA at the Al Thumama stadium in the final round of fixtures in Group B, these two bitter foes will battle it out in a virtual knockout that could seal a spot for the victor in the knockouts of the FIFA World Cup 2022.

For two countries without a fabled history in the beautiful game, a win on Wednesday night would be a massive result for either team, giving them an opportunity to erase some of the ghosts of the past and make a statement to the world that they are not just there to fill the numbers.

USA not having qualified for the 2018 edition of the tournament could make amends with a squad brimming with talent & one which overpowered England in their 2nd game; while Iran not having ever gone beyond the group stages despite being a powerhouse in Asia made their 6-2 loss to England in their 1st match look like an aberration by beating Wales in style.

From a footballing perspective, this game has the potential to be an absolute humdinger. However, for these two nations who despise each other on the political front, it will be much more than just a knockout game. It will be a chance to make a statement that reaches far beyond the boundaries of sport.

These two countries have politically had a turbulent coexistence with each other for decades. The latest installment in their feud with each other ensued on Twitter this time when the official handle of the US Men’s National Football Team posted an image of the World Cup Group B standings and decided to remove the symbol of the Islamic Republic from the Iranian flag that bears the colours green, white and red.

Iran’s state-affiliated media Tasnim News Agency claim that this has allegedly breached FIFA guidelines.

In the wake of Mahsa Amini’s tragic death which outraged Iranians amidst already prevalent large-scale nationwide protests in the Persian country against the theocratic nature of the government, the Iranian state has had to take damage control by demanding for the US to be “kicked out” of the World Cup due to their supposed breach.

With Iran’s national football team also protesting in the tournament by abstaining from singing the national anthem, along with visuals of fans in the stadium finding their own ways to oppose the Khamenei regime, this tweet from the USMNT account adds to the controversy despite the growing support from across the world on the issue of women’s rights in Iran. Although the USMNT stated that it was a one-time gesture, it is but a small episode in the growing saga of hostility between the two nations in recent years.

Earlier on Saturday night, Iran beat Wales 2-0 in remarkable fashion with two goals in the dying minutes of stoppage time, placing them in 2nd ahead of the USA despite a drubbing in their opening game. After the game ended, former World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann, also the former head coach of the USMNT, made some controversial remarks about the “culture” of Iran’s game.

He called out Iran’s tactics of using the dark arts that involve pressurizing the referees in-game to influence the result.

The German even went on to mention Iran’s head coach Carlos Queiroz’s failures in his spells with Colombia and Egypt, saying:

“That’s their culture, that’s their way of doing it, and that’s why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well the Iranian national team. He struggled in South America and failed with Colombia to qualify, and then he failed with Egypt to qualify as well, and he went back right before the World Cup and guided Iran, where he worked already for a long, long time.”

This caused considerable outrage amongst the footballing fraternity in Iran. Considering the background of Klinsmann’s former association with the USMNT, there has been an outcry, spearheaded by Carlos Queiroz himself. The Portuguese manager, who is Iran’s longest-serving coach, responded on Twitter with a lengthy tirade where he hit out at Klinsmann’s “prejudiced” comments and called them a “disgrace” and even demanded that he resign from his position as a member of the Qatar 2022 Technical Study Group.

This resentment permeates through these countries’ troubled relationship with each other through decades of differences. Their inability to reach an agreement on the nuclear deal and the sanctions imposed or lack thereof were further stumbling blocks that caused massive friction between the two nations. This has only led to a further deterioration of their relationship in recent years, leading to more conflict and unrest.

As the age-old saying goes, politics must never interfere with sport. Whilst that may be true in concept, sport will never ever be exclusive of it. From centuries of sport and competition, politics has always broiled over & trickled its way into sport. Some of the greatest political messages & underpinnings of community, togetherness, and protests have emerged through the lens of sport, and vice versa; football is no different.

Although politics will serve as the backdrop of what could potentially be a thrilling affair between Iran and the USA, the football on display will be equally, if not more exciting.

The last and only time these two sides faced each other at the World Cup was way back in 1998, when Iran beat the USA 2-1. A lot has changed in the 25 years since then, with the US now a considerably stronger force to reckon with. Under coach Berhalter, they have a young side that play the modern way. The likes of Pulisic, Adams, Weah, and Mckennie form the spine of this team that has players playing in the best leagues across the world.

Meanwhile, Iran has not been able to replicate its storied history in Asian footballing circles on the global stage. When they crumbled against England, Iran and their fans would’ve feared the worst. However, against Wales, the team looked inspired, hungry, and despite the hurt of their loss to England managed to grind out a win.

Coach Carlos Queiroz used the pain and disappointment to inspire performances from Azmoun, Taremi, and the likes to seal a stunning victory against a side ranked above them in the FIFA world rankings.

This World Cup has had a range of narratives and headlines already in just a week since its commencement, and the group stages have already delivered a multitude of upsets leaving the prospects of several countries hanging by a thread before the final round of fixtures.

Despite not being a clash between big names of the game, Iran vs USA is one of those games that will have millions of eyes on it. It is a chance for either team to script history, and also for further stories to unfold.

North America vs Asia. The West vs The Middle East. The stage is set.

Also read: La Roja’s Fury – Tactical Analysis: Spain v Costa Rica FIFA WC 2022 Qatar

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