Tuesday 29/11/2022: Iran vs USA
Location: Doha, Qatar (Al Thumama Stadium)
Tehran - 22:30
London - 19:00
Berlin - 20:00
Los Angeles - 11:00
New York City - 14:00
Sydney - 06:00
Doha - 22:00
Where to Watch:
USA - Fox Sports
UK - BBC Two
Germany - Das Erste
Sweden - SVT
Australia - SBS
France - beIN Sports
Canada - TSN
On the first of April in Zurich when the FIFA World Cup draw took place, many headlined the final match between Iran and USA in Group B as the fixture that would determine the fate of both sides. Indeed, those predictions have come to pass and both sides will take the pitch at the Al Thumama Stadium Tuesday knowing they control their own destinies. For Team Melli, simply avoiding defeat should be enough to seal a place in the Round of 16 for the first time in the history of Iranian football, while the Americans require a victory.
Following a much-needed bounce-back win over Wales in which Carlos Queiroz’s side displayed impressive intensity and mental fortitude, the vibe around the Team Melli camp is distinctly more upbeat compared to a week ago. Off the field, existing tensions have been exacerbated following Jurgen Klinsmann’s derogatory comments regarding Iranian “culture” in response to the team’s dominant win.
They were comments which Queiroz did not take kindly to, to say the least.
Meanwhile, the USMNT’s social media department was embroiled in controversy after they uploaded an edited image of the Iranian flag to their Twitter account in solidarity with the Iranian struggle for women’s rights, which they subsequently deleted and apologized for.
Despite the noise, Queiroz maintained that football will be the primary focus on Tuesday evening, where Iran will be tasked with stopping what he labeled as the best team in Group B.
Many questioned Team Melli’s ability to recover so quickly after the heavy defeat against England in their opening match. What transpired on Friday against Wales left no doubt that they have in fact turned the page and returned to something resembling their best selves. By executing a high intensity pressing scheme that translated turnovers into rapid counter attacks all game long, the Iranians effectively subdued what seemed a buoyant Welsh team. Sardar Azmoun, who played on despite a clear lack of fitness following two months out with a calf tear, ran the Welsh defense ragged, hitting the post once and giving his side a reliable option in behind. His presence in the team opened up space for Mehdi Taremi to resume a more familiar role as the main playmaker, which he managed excellently, creating a World Cup-high eight goal scoring opportunities. Despite a host of solid chances, Iran won it late with a long distance rocket from unlikeliest of sources, Roozbeh Cheshmi to break the deadlock. A brilliant display from the reinstated Ramin Rezaeian culminated in a beautiful chip to seal the match following more good work by Taremi in the buildup. The scoreline was the least Iran that dominance merited, and put them in a strong position heading into a tough final game.
Iran’s match against Wales certainly took more out of them from a physical perspective than the first game against England, where Queiroz started a weakened team and only introduced multiple key starters as substitutes in the second half. Sardar Azmoun and Saeid Ezatolahi both struggled with leg cramps towards the end of Friday’s game, forcing Queiroz to bring them off prematurely. While both are fit and expected to start against the U.S., this likely explained why neither started against England. On the other hand, Ahmad Nourollahi, who put on a combative display in the middle of the park before suffering a thigh injury, is a doubt. Replacing his intensity off the ball will be a concern for Queiroz as he seeks to contain the Yanks’ brilliant midfield trio of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah. He may instead opt for the guile and composure of Saman Ghoddos in that role instead.
In goal, there are also question marks with first-choice Alireza Beiranvand returning to full training following a concussion against England. However, in his absence Seyed Hossein Hosseini’s solid performance might have convinced Queiroz to leave him between the sticks for what would be the biggest match of his life.
S.H. Hosseini, Rezaeian, Pouraliganji, M. Hosseini, Mohammadi; Ghoddos, Ezatolahi, Hajsafi; Gholizadeh, Azmoun, Taremi.
*Note: We have never successfully predicted a Carlos Queiroz XI. Frankly, nobody has.
The Opponent: USA
As Carlos Queiroz eloquently stated in his pre-match press conference, the United States’ displays at the World Cup thus far prove that they have taken the leap from “soccer” to “football”. Despite failing to register a win, much of their overall play has been excellent. Their success is built on a combination of athleticism and technique in the middle of the park, with captain and Leeds regular Tyler Adams well complemented by Valencia’s Yunus Musah and Juventus’s Weston McKennie. This combination often works the ball to wide areas where wingers Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah combine with highly offensive fullbacks to create goalscoring opportunities. Disrupting the Americans’ midfield dominance and limiting space for their quick wide players will be Queiroz's main objective when his team is without the ball. For all their good play, the Americans have glaring deficiencies at the center forward spot, often failing to maintain a reliable goal threat in and around the box. At the back, they have shown vulnerabilities as well with Walker Zimmerman giving up an amateurish penalty against Gareth Bale while Sergino Dest’s offensive tendencies may afford space to Iran’s talisman Mehdi Taremi on the counter attack.
Projected US XI:
Turne; Dest, Ream, Zimmerman, Robinson; McKennie, Adams, Musah; Weah, Sergent, Pulisic.
Prediction: 1 - 1
Iran has shown a real progression to their game so far in this World Cup. Despite considerable tension off the field, Team Melli seem to have improved the volume and accuracy with which they spring counter attacks, setting them up perfectly for a match in which a draw will suffice for progression. Unlike against England, the U.S. will be tasked with breaking down a much lower block and preventing counter attacks from materializing on the other end, something they showed against Wales and in CONCACAF qualifying that they are not necessarily designed to do. Besides the various tactical and personnel battles, it is worth noting that the American side lacks experience together in high pressure moments. Additionally, head coach Gregg Berhalter’s own inexperience at this level has led many fans to question his in-game management. This was evidenced in the 1-1 draw against Wales, where an initially dominant American side seemed unable to find answers for Rob Paige’s basic tactical change at the start of the second half (the physical CF Kieffer Moore entered the pitch for winger Daniel James). This reality contrasts starkly with Carlos Queiroz and Team Melli, who showed maturity to dig themselves out of a mental hole before dominating a confident Welsh outfit. Now, they can call on the experience of critical last day action at the World Cup against Portugal four years ago to help them navigate this tricky encounter.
Iran will enter the match on an emotional high, eager to achieve what narrowly evaded them in Russia. If they manage to do so, this group of players will cement themselves as Iran’s greatest ever.
To listen to our podcast previewing the Iran vs. USA match, visit: golbezanpodcast.com/golbezan/analysis-iran-2-0-wales-preview-iran-vs-usa-2022-fifa-world-cup
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha