Iran’s campaign got off to the worst possible start, a 6-2 loss to England, played against a backdrop of controversy with members of Team Melli refusing to sing the national anthem in protest against the country’s regime. Four days later, against Wales, despite only enjoying 38% possession, Iran had the best of the chances — hitting the woodwork twice in one move and having six shots on target to their opponent’s three — and got their campaign back on track with a 2-0 win. Pegged back by Wales on Matchday 1, the USA picked up a second point against England in their second game.
Carlos Queiroz generally favours a 5-3-2 formation for Iran, while the USA usually opts for a 4-1-2-3 system, and the three in the centre of the park earned rave reviews for their movement and energy in frustrating England. These teams look well matched, with the Stars and Stripes ranked 16th in the world, and Iran in 20th. For the USA, the equation is simple: win, and they qualify for the knockout phase for the fourth time since 1994. Lose or draw, and they are out. These teams have met just twice, most recently in a 1-1 draw in a friendly in 2000. But the game that lives long in the memory is Iranian Football’s proudest day: a 2-1 triumph in the 1998 World Cup. That win wasn’t enough to ensure qualification, but a win, and probably a draw — depending on the result between England and Wales — would be enough to see Iran qualify.