DOHA, Qatar — The knockout rounds start now for the U.S. men at the 2022 World Cup.
The group stage finale against Iran has become a win-or-go-home game for the Americans. Thanks to their draw with England on Friday night, their only path out of the group is a victory on Tuesday.
“It’s all in our hands to play for,” defender Tim Ream said. “There is a bit of frustration (with the draw), but we have to be pleased that it’s in our hands going into the final game.”
Despite the thin margin of error, the standings in Group B are so tight — some might call them chaotic — that the USMNT still has a mathematical chance to win the group. That’s right. The USMNT could just as easily wind up with bragging rights in the group as plane tickets home.
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“We obviously had to earn that right so we know what we’re going to have to do going into that last game,” U.S. captain Tyler Adams said. “That’s important that you have that in your mentality.”
Here’s how it stands: England has four points, Iran three, the USMNT two and Wales one.
A draw with Iran does nothing for the Americans because it would give Team Melli four points, sending it through. But a victory gives the USMNT five, and only England could finish with more.
For the USMNT to win the group, Wales would have to beat England. Even a draw with Wales, giving England five points, would keep the Three Lions at the top of the group because they’d have the advantage on goal differential. Unless Wales or the USMNT can score enough goals to pare England’s four-goal advantage, that is. Which seems unlikely given the history at this and past tournaments.
Wales and the USMNT have scored a goal each in Qatar. In their previous 10 World Cup appearances, the USMNT has scored three goals in a game just three times — and two of those were back in 1930.
So to sum it up, and keep it simple, the USMNT needs to win. Everything else will sort itself out.
“Obviously it sucks we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net and come out with the win and three points,” said Weston McKennie, who skied a volley in the 26th minute against England. “But the most important thing is that we control the outcome of our journey in this tournament with the last game against Iran. That’s the most important thing for us. The next thing is just to go out and get three points against Iran and advance from the group.”
The draw against Wales, when the USMNT couldn’t capitalize on several first-half chances and conceded a penalty in the 82nd minute, is even more disappointing now. A win would give them four points now, meaning they could still advance with a draw against Iran.
But there’s also something to be said for giving the young Americans a taste of the pressure they’d face in the knockout rounds before they actually begin. There can be no lack of focus knowing what’s at stake, and no letting off the gas after seeing Iran score late goals in both of its early matches.
Both of Iran’s goals against England came in the last 25 minutes, including a penalty in stoppage time. It scored twice against Wales after the 90th minute, once on a penalty.
“All we can ask for is to have destiny in our own hands, and we have that,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “The job is definitely not finished because Iran looked really, really good today.
“They stay in every game. They don’t stop,” Turner added. “So it’s going to be a challenging game for us.”
Challenging, and yet simple. In the words of Al Davis, “Just win, baby!”
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
Story Credit: usatoday.com