U.S. squad prepares for gamesmanship from Iran in must-win match

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — In case you haven’t heard, there’s a big game for the United States men’s national team coming up on Tuesday.

Really a great game, the biggest American men’s soccer has had for at least eight years, the biggest it will have for another four. It’s a game of simplicity — where a win is golden and nothing else against Iran will do (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

And yet, at Al Thumama Stadium, there will be a game within the game, one that will play a role of its own. It’s a game specifically designed to throw an opponent off their game, which is what they call what they do: gamesmanship.

Iran, the team Gregg Berhalter’s USA must beat to make their way out of Group B and into the round of 16, is a master of gamesmanship.

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Carlos Queiroz’s team is a high-quality team, good enough to be ranked 20th in the world, compared to the USMNT’s 16th, and it did an outstanding job beating Wales 2-0 on Friday. It is also an experienced group filled with veteran players who are highly skilled in the mysterious art of cajoling refs and getting any available advantage.

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“They worked the referee,” former USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the BBC after Iran’s impressive win, which saved their campaign after a 6-2 loss to England in their opener. “They work the lane and fourth-official, they’re constantly in their ear. There were a lot of incidents that we didn’t see. It’s their (soccer) culture, they take you out of your game.”

Let’s be real here, it’s not “their” soccer culture. Yes, the Iranians play to the limit of the rules, and sometimes step over, and they are far from the only ones who do this. Many teams in the World Cup embrace such methods, especially when their backs are against the wall.

The American squad has captured the hearts of their audience at home, but it would be blinkered to fool ourselves into thinking there are not times when a mild bit of exaggeration, or time-wasting to protect a lead, or remonstrate with the referee. Become part of the agenda, too.

These are professional players with a strong competitive streak. That’s how it is.

“Every single team in the World Cup, they all have a different kind of style and different ways of playing, and that’s the nature of the sport,” said American defender Tim Ream. “That’s the nature of our game.

“It’s not something you can prepare for. It’s an understanding that it’s going to happen. We just have to keep our cool and not let it bother you.”

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There is almost no limit to the things that teams can do to slow down the pace of a game, to destroy its opponent, to try to get an edge – by fair means or foul.

Iran’s bench was extremely vocal and animated in pressuring the referee during their match with Wales, although this is not an uncommon sight in this tournament.

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It is worth remembering that Iran only needs an alliance to move forward. Anything that affects the rhythm of the match, or chews up some clock, will be like gold dust to them.

This is not like the do-or-die situation the USA faced against Algeria in 2010, when Algeria also needed a win and had players forward in search of a goal, opening up enough space for Landon Donovan’s famous breakaway.

The USA has faced difficult situations with regularity. The CONCACAF region is known as one of the trickiest in world soccer, where road games provide a particularly difficult challenge.

“I don’t think you can do anything other than normal – you come up against gamesmanship and different styles in CONCACAF all the time,” Riam added.

As for Klinsmann’s comments, they were quickly – and angrily – noted by Iran’s Portuguese head coach, Queiroz.

“No matter how much I respect what you have done on the field, the words about Iran’s culture, Iran’s national team and my players are a disgrace to football,” Queiroz tweeted to Klinsmann.

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Klinsmann responded by promising to reach out to Queiroz to try to smooth things over.

Ream is part of a strong defensive lineup that will need to use its own brand of intelligent physicality Tuesday, as falling behind would drastically increase the difficulty level.

Most of the current USMNT players were either not born or not old enough to remember the last time the USA faced Iran at the World Cup, a 1998 clash that ended in a demoralizing 2-1 defeat in a tournament in which the Americans finished dead- Last of the 32 teams.

However, they all remember the 2010 and 2014 campaigns, when there was still work to do in the final round of group action, and the USA found a way through.

Everything will be decided by who is better, tougher and more skillful on the night and the opportunity to become a hero awaits.

But as the Americans keep their assembly, if they are faced with some of ​​the tricky art of soccer, can also have a seismic impact on whether the campaign ends in disappointment, or continues with all possible rest.

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