USA and Iran drawn into politics day before World Cup match

Iranian Football Federation calls for US to be kicked out of competition after flag controversy

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Simmering tension between Washington and Tehran spilt into a press conference by Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the US national football team, on Monday.

A day before Team USA's crucial World Cup Qatar 2022 match against Iran at the Al Thumama in Doha, Berhalter was pressed on US naval and immigration policy.

Tyler Adams, USA captain, was asked about discrimination in the US.

It was another sign of how strained ties between the two countries have become in recent years, since the killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad in 2020.

And negotiations to restart the Iran nuclear deal, from which former president Donald Trump pulled the US in 2019, are all but stalled as the US imposes more sanctions against Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of Iran's "morality police".

The US and Iran played in a politically charged World Cup group stage match in 1998, which Iran won 2-1.

Berhalter said he hoped his team could focus only on football as they needed a win to secure a spot in the knockout stages of this year's World Cup.

“We know exactly what Iran are going to bring, and we don't want to make the same mistakes as we did in the past,” he said. “We want to learn from that and be able to put it into performance.”

Iranian players have also been drawn into the political conversation as protesters challenge them to speak out against their government's deadly crackdown on protests after Amini's death.

The US Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic republic, prompting the Iranian Football Federation to demand the US be handed a 10-match ban and kicked out of the World Cup.

American players were not consulted on the USSF's decision.

“I can only reiterate that the players and the staff knew nothing about what was being posted. Sometimes, things are out of our control,” Berhalter said.

“All we can do on our behalf is apologise on behalf of the players and staff, but it's not something that we were a part of.

"Of course, our thoughts are with the Iran people, the players and the whole country, but our focus is on this match.”

And Jurgen Klinsmann, former USA head coach, was forced to retreat on comments where he said “this is just their culture”, in reference to Iran's gamesmanship against Wales during their 2-0 win last week.

In a post on Twitter, Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz called Klinsmann's comments a “disgrace to football”.

Queiroz invited Klinsmann to visit the Iranian national team's camp to learn about their culture. He also called on Klinsmann to resign as a member of Qatar 2022 Technical Study Group.

Klinsmann said his words were taken out of context, adding that he would try to call Queiroz.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: November 29, 2022, 5:22 PM