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Before the USA-Iran game, the team faces a tense political press conference

 


USA midfielder Tyler Adams (R) and coach Gregg Berhalter give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha on November 28, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup soccer match between Iran and USA- of.

Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

The US men’s soccer team will face Iran on Tuesday in its new World Cup game. If you win, you go to the next stage and if you lose, you go home.

But despite the need to focus on the most important game this team has ever faced, the lead-up has been fraught with political drama. On Monday, Team USA players sat through a surreal and politically charged news conference, during which they were bombarded with questions and criticism about their country.

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

Iranian media reacted swiftly, with the state-run Tasnim media agency calling for the American team to be kicked out of the tournament.

Iran’s flag was changed to its current version in 1980, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 brought a theocracy led by conservative Muslim clerics. The US and Iran have been ideological enemies with severed diplomatic relations ever since.

While many Iranians and activists supporting the protesters welcomed the move by the U.S. Soccer Association, saying they associate the Islamic Republic’s emblem with oppression and torture, Iran’s state media criticized it, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy. and grilling the team’s players with political questions on Monday. press event.

A reporter from Iran’s state-controlled Press TV criticized US team captain Tyler Adams for badmouthing Iran and asked him how he felt about representing a country the reporter described as rife with racial discrimination. Adams is mixed race.

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

“I apologize for mispronouncing your country,” Adams replied. “That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go … in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every day … as long as you make progress, that’s the most important thing.”

USA leaves a huddle led by USA’s Tyler Adams during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and USA at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

Simon M Brutty | Any occasion | Getty Images

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

Berhalter replied: “For us it’s a football game against a good team, it’s not much more than that.”

The coach and players seemed intent on avoiding political topics and keeping the discussion to the game, but their efforts were repeatedly ignored.

Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz as well tried to keep his comments focused on football, despite pointed questions from reporters from various nations, including whether the flag drama would serve as motivation for his team.

“If after 42 years in this game as a coach, I still believe I can win games with those mental games, I think I haven’t learned anything about the game,” said Queiroz, a Portugal international. “That’s not the point.”

The players were asked about US military policy

Political questions persisted, however, going as far as geopolitics and the US military.

One of the Iranian journalists asked Berhalter: “Sport is something that should bring nations together, and you are a sportsman. Why shouldn’t you ask your government to withdraw its military fleet from the Persian Gulf?”

The coach of the American team replied: “I agree, sports is something that should bring countries together… you can compete as brothers.”

Ahmad Nourullahi of Iran in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and IR 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 US’s strict visa laws for Iranian nationals, to which he replied: “I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a football coach. I’m not well-versed in international politics, so you can’t comment on that.”

US team apologizes for changing Iranian flag, says it was careless

The coach of the American team also apologized for changing the Iranian flag, saying that he and his players had no role in the decision and knew nothing about it.

“Sometimes things are out of our control,” Berhalter said. “We’re not focused on those external things and all we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff, but that’s not something we’ve been a part of.”

“We had no idea what US Soccer pulled out. The staff, the players, we had no idea. For us, our focus is on this match. Of course our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country and everybody,” he added.

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

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

American defenseman Tim Ream said during the conference call, “We support women’s rights and what we’re doing as a team is supporting that while we’re trying to prepare for the biggest game this team has had to date.”

Protests have taken place across Iran since mid-September, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman, was arrested after allegedly breaking Iran’s strict rules on wearing the hijab, the Islamic head covering for women.

A picture taken by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators burning a rubbish bin in the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. –

– | Afp | Getty Images

Many Iranian analysts are calling the insurgency the biggest challenge for the Islamic Republic in decades. Before the first match of the World Cup on November 21, which was against England, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem, remaining in stoic silence. The team sang the anthem for their second game on Friday, but reports have emerged that they were forced to do so under threat.

Positive words

The coaches of both teams referenced the last time the USA and Iran met on a World Cup stage, which was in 1998 in France. Iran defeated the USA 2-1 in a hard-fought game that at the time was called “the mother of all football games”. Each of the coaches complimented the other team’s performance.

Iran coach Queiroz also had positive things to say about the US team’s performance so far in Qatar, where they drew with Wales and England. He said the American team had made “a leap from soccer to soccer.”

“We play with a very, very good team, very well organized with the same dream and the same goal in mind,” said Queiroz.

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

Julian Finney | Getty Images

“I hope that tomorrow my boys will be able to put together their head, spirit, skills and will to win. I hope they get the result that gives us the passport to the second round.”

Berhalter similarly praised the Iranian team’s performance in 1998. “Iran wanted to win the match with everything they played really committed, really focused from the first whistle. For us to win the match tomorrow, that will That has to be the mindset of our group. We don’t want to make the mistakes of the past.”

As for Tuesday’s game, which starts at 2 p.m. ET, Berhalter said, “We win or we’re out of the World Cup. Anytime you’re in a World Cup and you can go to the last game of the group in control of your own destiny, that’s a very good thing.”

Sources

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