For young USMNT, it's 'we win, we're in' at the World Cup

For young USMNT, it’s ‘we win, we’re in’ at the World Cup

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KHOR, Qatar – In football, there are games that look like wins and games that look like losses. The United States had one of each during the group stage of this World Cup.

Squandering a late lead against Wales in Monday’s 1-1 opener left a bad taste, but standing up to mighty England in a 0-0 stalemate on Friday was cause for light celebration.

Nothing good, however, would come from another draw on the final day of Group B play on Tuesday. The United States (two points) must beat Iran (three points) to finish in the top two and advance to the knockout stages. With a loss or a tie, this World Cup adventure ends.

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When the 32-team competition began, breaking out of the group was the threshold of modest success after missing the 2018 tournament and permeating the roster with younger players. The Americans are now in position to complete their first mission.

“We’re not going to think about it too much,” said defender Tim Ream. “We win, we’re in.”

England (four points) lead the group and, beating Wales (one), would clinch first place. A draw would also ensure progress to the next stage. The only way the Three Lions didn’t finish first or second was to lose to the Dragons by a lopsided scoreline and squander their big goal differential (the first tiebreaker).

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England’s result against Wales, however, will have no bearing on the American cause. It is three points or bust.

“It’s clear now,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Every time you go to a World Cup and go to the last group match controlling your destiny, that’s a very good thing.”

The last time the United States found themselves in such a situation at the World Cup was in 2010 in South Africa. This campaign also started with a pair of draws, including one against England. Needing three points in the group final against Algeria, the Americans were on the verge of being knocked out when Landon Donovan scored one of the most famous goals in American football history – a desperate team in the open field in stoppage time which sparked wild celebrations on the pitch. Land of Pretoria and return home.

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In a 2022 squad filled with players in their late teens and early twenties, that moment was the most frequently cited moment when they were asked to recount their first or fondest World Cup memory. Donovan is now part of the Fox Sports announce team in Qatar.

“Hopefully it’s not as spectacular as that goal,” captain Tyler Adams, 23, said of Tuesday’s hopes. “I don’t want to wait until the end.”

They left it for the last game, with no room for error, as they don’t score goals. Defensively they were great, conceding just one penalty. But the drought that haunted them for much of the nervous World Cup qualifying campaign has worsened since the summer.

“Sometimes we wanted to go even further and put the ball in front of goal and give them real problems,” Berhalter said on Friday. “But you know, at this level, goals are not easy.”

They didn’t come easily against a variety of opponents. In the last seven matches, USA have been shut out four times and scored multiple times once – against FIFA-ranked No.173 Grenada.

Another empty performance will send them home.

An ambitious first-half performance against Wales gave Tim Weah a goal, brilliantly assisted by Christian Pulisic. The second half was a chore.

The United States created more high-quality chances than England on Friday, a surprising development given the United States’ continuing problems and England’s 6-2 loss to Iran four days earlier. early. Again, however, the Americans lacked that finishing touch.

The Three Lions have been criticized for their performance. The Sun’s headline read: “Yawn America.” The Daily Mail said: ‘Boring, Boring England!’ and the Evening Standard called it a “Reality Check as England come second to USA to deflate World Cup draw”.

Berhalter didn’t call Friday’s game a big success because “you need the score to win the game, and we didn’t.”

“We’ve been close a couple of times and we’ve put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “And we want to keep improving in this tournament, and that’s our goal.”

There was no pun intended by Berhalter, who, in his only roster change after the Wales game, swapped forwards: Haji Wright for Josh Sargent. One of 10 shots against England was on target, not counting Pulisic’s offer on the crossbar.

“If you create 100 chances, at least one of them will eventually come in,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, who squandered a golden chance in the first half. “The most important thing is that we have created chances and that we can be a threat. And that will only build.

On Tuesday, the Americans will also have to live up to the spirit of Iran. Team Melli bounced back from the England disaster to play with great energy and unflinching faith in a 2-0 win over Wales at 10. Both goals came in stoppage time from the second half just rewards after attacking enthusiastically all afternoon and blaring the posts twice in a row in a second-half flurry.

Iranians were also facing unrest in their country and the arrest of a well-known player, Voria Ghafouri, for protesting against the regime in Tehran. (He is not part of the World Cup squad.)

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Since the World Cup draw in April, the United States-Iran match has been billed not just as a sporting event, but as a clash of political enemies. On Friday, Berhalter played down that.

“I played in three different countries and coached in Sweden,” he said. “And the 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 the sport of football. I imagine the match will be very close for the fact that the two teams want to go to the next round, not because of politics or relations in our country. We are footballers and we are going to compete. They are going to compete, and that’s it.

World Cup in Qatar

The last: The United States draw 0-0 with England in their second World Cup game on Friday to set up a must-win group final against Iran. Read highlights from the Group B game.

Political protest: The looming backdrop to Iran’s World Cup campaign is a nationwide protest movement targeting its religious leaders, and tensions, inevitable and lingering, are spilling onto the pitch.

Strong points: Where on Tuesday there had been Saudi Arabia against Argentina, it is now the spectacle over 73 minutes in Brazil against Serbia. The wonder of a Richarlison goal cemented Brazil’s opening 2-0 win.

Perspective: The beautiful game is good. Suitcases full of cash are better. Read Sally Jenkins on Qatar’s human rights controversy.

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