A tense political press conference awaits the team ahead of the US-Iran match

US midfielder Tyler Adams (right) and coach Gregg Berhalter give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha on November 28, 2022 ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup football match between Iran and the United States.

Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, the US men’s soccer team will play the World Cup decider against Iran. If he wins, he moves on to the next stage, and if he loses, he goes home.

But despite the need to focus on the most important game this team of players has ever faced, the preparation was fraught with political drama. On Monday, Team USA players held a surreal and politically charged press conference during which they were bombarded with questions and criticism of their country.

In response to months of violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Iran, the US Football Federation briefly changed its social media posts over the weekend to display the Iranian flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. The change was made for 24 hours to show support for women protesting for their rights in Iran, the federation said.

The Iranian media reacted quickly, with the state news agency Tasnim calling for the US team to be excluded from the tournament.

Iran’s flag was changed to its current version in 1980, after the 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in a theocracy led by conservative Muslim clerics. Since then, the US and Iran have been ideological enemies with severed diplomatic ties.

While many Iranians and activists supporting the protesters hailed the US Football Federation’s decision, saying they associated the Islamic Republic emblem with harassment and torture, Iranian state media criticized it, accusing the US of hypocrisy and bombarding team players with political questions on Monday . press event.

A reporter for Iranian state television channel Press TV criticized Team USA captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing the word “Iran” and asked him how he felt about portraying a country that the reporter described as rife with racial discrimination. Adams is mixed race.

“Are you okay to represent your country that has so much discrimination against blacks within its own borders?” a Press TV reporter asked.

“I apologize for the mispronunciation of your country,” Adams replied. “That said, discrimination is everywhere you go… in the US we keep making progress every single day… as long as you make progress, that’s what matters most.”

The US leaves a team led by US Tyler Adams during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Group B match between England and the US at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

Simon M Bruty | Any chance | Getty Images

Another Iranian state media reporter asked US coach Gregg Berhalter, “What percentage of the world’s population would be happy if Iran won this match.” [versus the U.S. team]?”

Berhalter replied: “For us, it’s a football match against a good team – nothing more.”

The coach and players seemed to be trying to keep political topics low and to keep the game going, but their efforts were repeatedly ignored.

Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz also tried to keep his comments focused on football, despite sharp questions from reporters from various countries, including the question of whether the drama with the flag will serve as motivation for his team.

“If after 42 years in this game as a coach I still believe that I can win games with these mental games, I think I have learned nothing about this game,” said Queiroz, a Portuguese citizen. “This is not the case.”

Players were asked about US military policy

However, political issues continued, reaching even to geopolitics and the US military.

One of the Iranian reporters asked Berhalter: “Sport is something that should bring nations together, and you are an athlete. Why shouldn’t you ask your government to withdraw your navy from the Persian Gulf?”

The USA team coach replied: “I agree, sport is what should bring countries together … you should compete like brothers.”

Ahmad Nurollahi of Iran in action during the 2022 Qatar World Cup Group B match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Richard Sellers | Getty Images Sports | Getty Images

Berhalter was also asked about the strict US visa laws for Iranian citizens, to which he replied, “I don’t understand politics enough, I’m a football coach. I’m not good at international politics, so I can.” I don’t comment on it.”

US team apologizes for Iranian flag change, saying it didn’t pay attention

The US coach also apologized for the Iranian flag change, saying that he and his players were not involved in the decision and did not know anything about it.

“Sometimes things get out of our control,” Berhalter said. “We’re not focused on these outside things and all we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and staff, but we weren’t part of that.”

“We had no idea what US Soccer was releasing. We had no idea about the staff, the players. We are focused on this match…Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country and everyone,” he said. added.

Protesters gather to demonstrate against the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran on September 23, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.

Sean Gallup | News Getty Images | Getty Images

U.S. quarterback Tim Rome said during the conference, “We support women’s rights and what we’re doing as a team is supporting that and also trying to prepare for the biggest game this team has ever played.”

Since mid-September, there have been protests across Iran sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Amini, a Kurdish Iranian, was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules regarding the wearing of the hijab, an Islamic head covering for women.

An image obtained by AFP outside of Iran on 21 September 2022 shows Iranian demonstrators burning a trash can in Tehran during a pro-Mahsa Amini protest, days after she died at a police station. –

– | Afp | Getty Images

Many Iranian analysts call the uprising the biggest challenge for the Islamic Republic in decades. Ahead of their first World Cup match on November 21 against England, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem, instead standing in stoic silence. The team sang the anthem for their second match on 25 November, but there were reports that they were forced to do so under threat.

positive words

Both teams’ coaches cited the last time the US and Iran competed in a World Cup was in 1998 in France. Iran beat the US 2-1 in a tough game that was called “the mother of all football matches” at the time. Each coach praised the performance of the other team.

Iranian team coach Queiroz also commented positively on the US team’s game in Qatar, where it drew with Wales and England. He said that the American team had made “the leap from football to football”.

“We are playing with a very, very good team, very well organized, with the same dream and the same goal,” Queiroz said.

Iranian players line up to play the national anthem before the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar Group B match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Julian Finney | Getty Images

“I hope tomorrow my guys will be able to put together their heads, souls, skills and will to win. I hope that they will achieve a result that will give us a pass to the second round.”

Berhalter also praised the performance of the Iranian team in 1998. “Iran wanted to win the game with everything – they played very dedicated, very focused from the first whistle. For us to win the game tomorrow, this should be the mindset of our group… We don’t want to make mistakes. of the past.”

Regarding Tuesday’s match, Berhalter said: “We’ll either win or be knocked out of the World Cup. Any time you’re in the World Cup and you can go to the last group game in control of your destiny, that’s pretty good.” thing.”

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