However, nothing good would come of a new draw on the last day of Group B on Tuesday. The United States (two points) must beat Iran (three points) to finish in the top two and advance to the round of 16. With a loss or a draw, this World Cup adventure comes to an end.
World Cup tiebreaks and progression scenarios, explained
When the league started with 32 teams, leaving the group was the threshold for modest success after missing out on the 2018 tournament and pushing young players into the roster. Now the Americans are in position to complete their first mission.
“We’re not going to think about it too long,” defender Tim Ream said. “We win, we compete.”
England (four points) lead the group and, by beating Wales (one), would qualify first. A draw would also secure passage to the next stage. The only way the Three Lions wouldn’t finish first or second was if they lost to the Dragons by a lopsided score and squandered their hefty goal difference (the first tiebreaker).
Wales has been absent from the World Cup for 64 years: ‘We are still here’
The outcome of England vs. However, Wales will have no influence on the US case. It’s three points or bust.
“It’s clear now,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter. “Anytime you’re in a World Cup and you go into the final group game to decide your fate, that’s a good thing.”
The last time the United States found itself in such a World Cup situation was in South Africa in 2010. That campaign also started with a few draws, including one against England. Needing three points in the group final against Algeria, the Americans were on the brink of elimination when Landon Donovan scored one of the most famous goals in American football history: a desperate increase in stoppage time from a packed field team that led to wild celebrations at the Pretoria field and back home.
From the archives: Landon Donovan’s goal means Americans advancing
In a 2022 squad packed with players in their late teens and early twenties, that moment was most often cited when asked to recount their first or best World Cup memory. Donovan is now part of the Fox Sports Announcement Team in Qatar.
“Hopefully not as dramatic as that goal,” captain Tyler Adams, 23, said of Tuesday’s prospects. “I don’t want to leave it to the end.”
They have left it to the last game, with no room for error as they are not scoring goals. Defensively they were great, only conceding a penalty kick. But the scoring drought that dogged them for much of the nerve-racking World Cup qualifying campaign has been festering since the summer.
“Sometimes we wanted to go even deeper and get the ball in front of goal and really get them into trouble,” Berhalter said on Friday. “But you know, at this level goals are not easy.”
They have not had an easy time against various opponents. In the past seven games, the United States has been eliminated four times and scored once – against Grenada, No. 173 in the FIFA rankings.
Another blank performance will send them home.
An ambitious first half performance against Wales saw a goal from Tim Weah, brilliantly assisted by Christian Pulisic. The second half was a breeze.
On Friday, the United States created more quality chances than England, a surprising development given the ongoing American troubles and England’s 6-2 fight over Iran four days earlier. But again the Americans missed that finishing touch.
The Three Lions were panned for their performance. The Sun’s headline read: “Yawning in the US.” The Daily Mail declared: “Boring, boring England!” and the Evening Standard called it a “Reality Check as England are second best to the US in deflating the World Cup draw.”
Berhalter stopped short of calling Friday’s game a huge success because “you need the score to win the game, and we didn’t.”
“We’ve been close on a number of occasions and put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “And we want to keep getting better in this tournament, and that’s our goal.”
There was no pun intended by Berhalter, who, in his only post-match line-up change in Wales, switched strikers: Haji Wright for Josh Sargent. One of 10 shots against England was on target, not counting Pulisic’s bid from the crossbar.
“If you create 100 chances, at least one will eventually go in,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, who squandered a golden opportunity in the first half. “The most important thing was that we created the chances and we can be a threat. And that will just build.”
On Tuesday, the Americans will also have to match the spirit of Iran. Team Melli bounced back from the disaster against England and performed with great energy and unfettered faith in a 2-0 10-man win over Wales. Both goals came in second-half stoppage time, mere rewards after attacking with gusto all afternoon and rattling the posts twice in quick succession during a second-half flurry.
The Iranians also faced unrest at home and the arrest of a well-known player, Voria Ghafouri, for protesting against the regime in Tehran. (He is not on the World Cup team.)
Iran’s victory at the World Cup sparks joy, but tensions over the protests persist
Since the World Cup draw in April, the game between the United States and Iran has become not just a sporting event, but a clash of political enemies. On Friday, Berhalter downplayed that.
“I played in three different countries and coached in Sweden,” he said. “And the nice thing about football is that you meet so many different people from all over the world, and you are united by the common love of football. I imagine the game is hotly contested due to both teams wanting to advance to the next round, not due to politics or relationships in our country. We are football players and we are going to compete. They’re going to compete, and that’s it.”
World Cup in Qatar
The last: The United States will draw England 0-0 in their second World Cup match on Friday to set up a must-win group final against Iran. Read the highlights of the match in Group B.
Political protest: The looming backdrop to Iran’s World Cup campaign is a nationwide protest movement in the home country targeting her church leadership, and tensions, inescapable and persistent, run across the field.
Highlights: Where Saudi Arabia had been over Argentina on Tuesday, the spectacle now came to Brazil over Serbia after 73 minutes. Richarlison’s miraculous goal confirmed Brazil’s 2-0 opening win.
Perspective: The beautiful game is fine. Suitcases full of money are better. Read Sally Jenkins on the human rights controversy in Qatar.