USMNT-Iran press conference turns surreal as Adams, Berhalter grilled over racism, inflation and war ships

Questions about soccer were rare. Airing of grievances was the order of the day

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar – In hindsight, the tenor of things was revealed from the moment Carlos Queiroz and Karim Ansarifard received a hearty round of applause as they strode into the wood-paneled auditorium deep inside the Qatari National Convention Centre.

That was just the start of an antagonistic and deeply surreal press conference.

The room that hosted both teams’ pregame availability one day ahead of the enormous — Ansarifard politely called it “a very sensitive game” — United States vs. Iran World Cup match was almost full, with representatives of US, Iranian and overseas journalists alike. Only one of those groups was clapping for Team Melli’s manager and striker, though.

An urbane, charismatic presence, Quieroz has led the Iranian side for most of the past decade. And his back-and-forth with Iran’s press pack — most of it hailing from state-affiliated outlets — flashed the cleverness by which he has endeared himself to so many across the nation without antagonizing the complex network of political factors that affect so much of high-level sports in the Islamic Republic.

While he did not utter the words “stick to sports,” that message was crystal clear.

“If after 42 years in this game as a coach, I still believe that I could win games with those mental games, I think I did not learn anything about the game. And this is not the case,” said Queiroz when asked about allegations of gamesmanship and skulduggery by the U.S. and Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of this fixture. “Those collective set of events that are surrounding this World Cup, I hope it will be a good lesson for all of us in the future. And that in the next event, we’ll be learning that our mission here is to create entertainment. And at least during 90 minutes, make the people happy.

That was likely music to the ears of both Iranian and Qatari government officials infuriated by media coverage of the ongoing human-rights protests that have roiled the streets of Iran for months, with hundreds reportedly killed and thousands arrested in state reprisals. Or the host nation’s questionable track record with migrant labor, laws criminalizing homosexuality and widespread reports of corruption around the awarding of this tournament.

It certainly drew another loud ovation from the Iranian press, who clapped a third time when Queiroz and Ansarifard left the room, with a FIFA official not offering any of the women journalists in the room a chance to pose a question.

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The reception given to USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams a little under an hour later was drastically different.

“Tomorrow, perhaps it’s going to be the most sensitive game of this Cup,” an Iranian journalist stated in the second question of the United States’ presser. “If we made a survey of the whole world, what percentage of the population of the world will be happy because of the win of the national team of Iran, and what percentage of the whole population of the world will be happy because of the United States soccer team wins?

Berhalter sought to defuse the ferocious tensions rumbling around this occasion, from Klinsmann’s contentious words about Team Melli, to the U.S. Soccer social-media posts that fleetingly used images of the Iranian flag sans the central emblem and other Islamic imagery in a gesture of support to the protesters in Iran.

“I know that a lot of other constituents have another feeling towards it. But for us, it’s a soccer game against a good team. And it’s not much more than that,” said Berhalter. “It’s a knockout game, both teams want to go to the next round, both teams are desperate to go to the next round. And that’s how we’re looking at this match. We’re very focused on what we could do as a team, as are they. And we think it’s going to be a good soccer game.”

The questions posed by Iranians grew more and more strident. After Adams offered a seemingly earnest declaration of support for “Iran’s people and Iran’s team,” but added that his team is “laser focused” on securing the victory that will see them through to the knockout stages, another journalist called out his mispronunciation of the country’s name (Adams said I-ran rather than eee-ron).

Then he asked the USMNT captain if he was “OK to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?” and where “there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America.”

Adams was measured in his response.

“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country,” said the 23-year-old midfielder. “That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go. One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years, and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day. Growing up for me, I grew up in a white family with obviously an African-American heritage and background as well.

“So I had a little bit of different cultures, and I was very easily able to assimilate in different cultures. So not everyone has that ease and the ability to do that. And obviously, it takes longer to understand and through education, I think it’s super important. Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country. So yeah, it’s a process, I think. As long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.”

The queries from Iranian reporters ran the gamut of their nation’s frustrations with the United States government and its foreign policy.

“Why is it that you do not ask your government to take away its military fleet from the Persian Gulf?”

“It seems the U.S. media have also started the mind games and attack like England and U.K. [media], we have never seen in sports that something like this has happened.”

“I’ve been in New York about two months ago, and there was no support to your team [due to] the high rise of inflation and economic problems. Do you think the American people support your team and you?”

“How is your reaction when I tell you U.S. passport [holders], they can be welcome to Iran anytime, and they can visit anywhere in Iran. But the same time Iranian passport, they can’t enter USA or United States lands, otherwise they have to make some problems?”

“Jurgen Klinsmann and his offense to head coach of Iran, Mr. Queiroz, he was starting psychological warfare to Iran or not?”

On and on went the fusillade of grievance, with Iranian journalists making clear that their members see great unfairness being inflicted on their team and its nation, leaving Adams and Berhalter nonplussed.

“I don’t know enough about politics. I’m a soccer coach,” Berhalter said at one point. “And I’m not well-versed on international politics.”

It was a surreal moment, and underlined — if the USMNT could possibly have any remaining doubt — just how many layers of meaning and controversy have been layered atop this zero-sum match.

“Sports is a huge opportunity to bring people together,” Adams said. “We continue to show our support and our empathy for what’s obviously happening to the Iranian team and the people. That being said, we do have a game to focus on.”

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Mohammed Kudus said he’s as good as Neymar. That’s not looking totally nuts.

The 22-year-old is looking like one of the World Cup’s breakout stars

Mohammed Kudus came to this World Cup full of confidence. Two games in, it’s easy to see why.

Kudus has been one of the breakout stars in the early going, tallying an assist for Ghana in an opening loss to Portugal before scoring a pair of goals in a wild 3-2 win over South Korea on Monday.

The 22-year-old playmaker netted a first-half header to give his side a 2-0 lead. But South Korea struck back in the second half, with Cho Gue-sung scoring two quick goals to equalize.

Kudus was not done, however, and he swept home a 68th-minute goal to complete his brace and give Ghana the winner it so desperately needed after falling in its opener.

Prior to the World Cup, Kudus told The Guardian of Neymar, a player he and his teammates could see in the knockout round: “He’s not better than me. He’s just a higher profile player, that’s all,”

Kudus has made a name for himself at Ajax after his 2020 arrival from Danish side Nordsjælland. The 22-year-old operates as a No. 10 who is equally comfortable scoring goals or creating them. His exploits in the Netherlands has led to interest from big clubs abroad, which will only be amplified by his first two games in Qatar.

Kudus knows he hasn’t reached the heights that Neymar has during his career. But he’s making steady progress and as his first two World Cup games have shown, it may not be a good idea to bet against him.

“What makes [Neymar] better, for now, is that he has achieved a lot,” Kudus said. I’ll get there soon.”

Watch Kudus score two vs. South Korea

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Carlos Queiroz, part of the USMNT’s revival, now aims to end its World Cup dream

The architect of Project 2010 is now trying to end project 2022

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar – A savvy, charismatic, multi-national polyglot with a fascination for the particularities of the American spirit: One could make the case that Carlos Queiroz was American soccer’s Jurgen Klinsmann before Jurgen Klinsmann was.While Klinsmann has been a constant presence in the nation’s footballing consciousness for more than a decade thanks to his television commentary work and time in charge of the U.S. men’s national team that followed, the Portuguese manager was a quietly influential figure on the domestic scene before the turn of the century.Though he would become a globetrotting coach with an array of high-powered destinations on his resume, Queiroz maintained U.S. ties through a network of colleagues and relationships that stretches from New York to Chicago to Manchester to Tehran and, eventually, to Doha today.Here he leads Iran into a massive World Cup match with the USMNT on Tuesday, with Group B’s results pitting the longtime geopolitical antagonists in a zero-sum situation for advancement to the tournament’s knockout stages. The Yanks need a win at Al Thumama Stadium to reach the round of 16, while a draw would be enough to see Team Melli through.In several ways, Queiroz’s ideas served as a sort of Rosetta Stone for the dramatic evolution of the player development pathway that produced so many members of the current USMNT squad. He arrived stateside in the spring of 1996 to take over the coaching duties of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars during Major League Soccer’s inaugural season.He would hold that post for only a matter of months, thanks to a big-money offer from Nagoya Grampus Eight that lured him to Japan. But contacts were made, seeds planted.“I realized immediately the great potential of United States soccer,” Queiroz told Soccer America in 2018. “What I found was the beginning of a huge project to create and help develop soccer in the United States.”Not long after, the U.S. Soccer Federation launched Project 2010, an ambitious big-picture plan to orient multiple levels of the sport towards the pursuit of excellence in time to compete for the trophy at that year’s World Cup.

Federation leaders, mindful of his past role in cultivating Portugal’s “golden generation,” tabbed Queiroz and his friend and colleague Dan Gaspar to provide “an independent look at the landscape here with a third-party point of view,” as Sunil Gulati would later put it.

Its general outline was released just before France 1998, where the USMNT’s woebegone last-place performance delivered a painful reality check.The 113-page “Q report” wasn’t exactly implemented in full. Yet its concepts helped lay the groundwork for innovations like the U.S. Soccer Development Academy youth league, upgraded coaching education structures and a national talent scouting network.

(Read Project 2010 in full HERE)

In fact, the federation was impressed enough that tentative plans were mooted for Queiroz to take over the USMNT after Steve Sampson’s departure, although that never came to pass. He would go on to manage Real Madrid, work alongside Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and lead a diverse list of national teams from Portugal to South Africa.Nowhere did he build a legacy quite like with Iran. He’s led Team Melli at three consecutive World Cups across two stints in charge, and is now just one positive result away from steering them into the knockout stages for the first time ever.

(Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

A hard-charging personality who’s said to thrive on four hours of sleep a night, Queiroz has earned the loyalty of fans and players while managing to walk the tightrope required in the treacherous, politicized environment of Iranian sports, a domain government officials often involve themselves in.He’s also drawn headlines for his outspoken defenses of his players, who are under a microscope in Qatar, just across the Persian Gulf from Iran. Huge numbers of supporters on both sides of the political divide are flocking to their matches while the human-rights protests and deadly government reprisals that have roiled their homeland since September loom large.He confronted a BBC journalist for asking striker Mehdi Taremi about the protesters back home, urging her to also query Gareth Southgate about U.S. and British policies towards Afghanistan. And on Saturday he ripped Jurgen Klinsmann in a lengthy Twitter thread after the naturalized Californian said on a BBC show that it was “part of [Iranian] culture” that Queiroz and his players “worked the referee” and engaged in gamesmanship and underhanded play in their emotional win over Wales.Making sure to note Klinsmann’s perceived “German/American” allegiances, Queiroz called his remarks “prejudiced,” “outrageous” and “a disgrace to football” before calling on him to resign from his position on FIFA’s Technical Study Group.Klinsmann responded that his words were “taken completely wrong” and “taken out of context,” suggesting that his past role in charge of the USMNT had led Iranians to see him as a provocateur and pledging to get in touch with Queiroz and “calm things down.” The subsequent controversy over U.S. Soccer’s use of an altered Iran flag with the symbols of its hardline Islamic government removed has only roiled the waters further.“It is unique. It is something different,” said U.S. defender Tim Ream on Sunday in a tense press conference attended by media from both nations. “But at the same time, we’re all human, we understand that there are things going on that are out of our control. And so that’s where we find ourselves. Again, we understand and empathize with the Iranian people. And at the end of the day, we are still having to focus on what is our job.”It all shapes Tuesday into a metaphorical powder keg, as well as an on-field scenario that favors Queiroz, known for his organized, defensively resilient tactics. If the Yanks are unable to dig out the victory they require to reach the round of 16, they’ll have been undone by an adversary who knows them and their soccer culture just about as well as any opposing manager could.

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Tensions flare as U.S. Soccer alters Iran flag on social media ahead of World Cup match

Iran officials reacted angrily to the gesture from U.S. Soccer

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar – An already-contentious occasion with massive stakes got even spicier for the U.S. men’s national team on Sunday, as a social-media squabble turned up the heat on Tuesday’s must-win World Cup match versus Iran.Fierce, women-led street protests have rumbled on in Iranian streets for weeks, with the nation’s hardline Islamic government responding with violent crackdowns that have reportedly killed hundreds and led to thousands of arrests. Amid that backdrop, U.S. Soccer officials decided to show support for Iran’s human-rights activists by using an Iranian flag without the Emblem of Iran on the USMNT’s Twitter header and some social-media posts.The emblem was added to the flag’s center after the Iranian Revolution of 1979; it is a stylized depiction of the word Allah that represents the phrase “There is no god but God” and has become associated with the country’s fundamentalist religious leadership.“The intent of the post was to show support for women’s rights, it was meant to be a moment,” said USMNT press officer Michael Kammarman at a Sunday media availability at the team’s Al-Gharafa training base. “We made the posts at the time, all the other representations of the flag remain consistent, and will continue to.”

The flag on the USMNT’s Twitter header was soon adjusted to reflect the official Iranian flag and the social-media posts have been taken down amid rapid blowback. Iranian officials and state-associated media have reacted with anger, accusing USSF of removing God from their flag and attempting to disrupt their national team before a crucial game for both sides.

“We know that this game isn’t isn’t played in a bubble,” said U.S. defender Tim Ream. “There are a lot of things that happen around the world and people want our opinions, but our opinion is that we want to play the game. And the game is for everyone. And that’s what we’re focused on.”U.S. Soccer officials had consulted with Iranian experts on the gesture of support, but did not inform USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter or his players before posting the images of the altered flag.“We’re huge supporters of women’s rights,” said USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman. “We didn’t know anything about the post, but we are supporters of women’s rights. We always have been. We’re focused a lot on Tuesday from the sporting side as well, so you [a reporter] mentioned it’s a distraction. I think this is such a focused group on the task at hand. But at the same time we empathize, and we are firm believers in women’s rights and support them.”

Iran’s players refused to sing their country’s national anthem ahead of their World Cup opener against England, in solidarity with protesters back home.

The USMNT are on two points and must win Tuesday’s match at Al Thumama Stadium to advance to the World Cup’s knockout phase, while Iran enter with three points and need only a draw to advance. The game is a redux of the nations’ meeting at the 1998 World Cup in France, where Iran won 2-1 amid similar political tensions owing to their tangled history over the decades.

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Maybe that USMNT September window wasn’t so bad after all

By the transitive property, the U.S. is better than Argentina!

The alarm bells were ringing after the U.S. national team had a dire September window, losing to Japan and drawing Saudi Arabia in two dismal performances.

In retrospect, maybe that window wasn’t quite as bad as we all thought.

Early in the 2022 World Cup there have been two major shocks, both involving the USMNT’s September opponents.

First, there was the shock of all shocks: Saudi Arabia beat pre-tournament favorite Argentina 2-1 on Tuesday in one of the more stunning results in World Cup history.

Then on Wednesday there was a slightly less surprising, but still eye-opening result in the opening match of Group E.

Germany was rampant in the first half against Japan, and got on the scoresheet through an İlkay Gündoğan penalty. The favored Europeans had a host of chances to put away the Japanese, but couldn’t capitalize.

Then, in eight dramatic second-half minutes, the game turned on its head.

Ritsu Doan equalized for Japan off a rebound in the 75th minute, before Takuma Asano won the game in the 83rd minute with an outstanding first touch and near-post finish to catch a sleeping German defense off a long free kick.

To be clear, the USMNT did play quite poorly in September, and after a disappointing opening-game draw against Wales, it’s far from a certainty that Gregg Berhalter’s men are significantly better than it seemed two months ago.

But Japan and Saudi Arabia may, in fact, be quite a bit better than we all thought heading into those two friendlies.

If the U.S. takes nothing else from this World Cup, their draw with Saudi Arabia now means they are (judging strictly by the transitive property) better than Argentina. Now that’s progress!

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Handsome Herve Renard and Saudi Arabia stun Argentina in all-time World Cup upset

Argentina had Messi, but the Saudis had skill, savvy and a hot coach on their side

You wouldn’t necessarily have blamed Argentina for overlooking Saudi Arabia in their World Cup opener.

After all, the Albiceleste were riding a 36-game unbeaten run and were tipped as one of the favorites to win the whole thing. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, came in ranked 51st in the world, having only advanced past the World Cup group stage once in its history, in 1994.

But on Tuesday, the impossible happened in one of the most stunning results in World Cup history: Saudi Arabia 2, Argentina 1.

It all started normally enough when Lionel Messi opened the scoring for Argentina with a 10th-minute penalty. From there, Argentina would’ve expected to kick on and hammer their overmatched foe.

But, despite a myriad of chances, the Argentines were unable to find a second goal. And at the start of the second half, Saudi Arabia hit its opponent with a stunning one-two punch: Saleh al-Shehri scored in the 48th minute and Salem al-Dawsari scored a stunner five minutes later.

The Saudis hung on from there to secure what will almost certainly be the biggest upset of this World Cup on just the third day of play.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi reacts disappointed during the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The result was a major feather in the cap for Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s well traveled and extremely handsome French head coach.

Renard has fashioned himself as a tournament specialist during his coaching career, leading a host of Asian and African teams to major success.

The 54-year-old led Zambia to a shocking triumph at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, before leading Ivory Coast to the title in the same competition three years later.

Renard then took over Morocco after a brief stint in club management with Lille, leading the African nation to the 2018 World Cup, the first time it had qualified for the tournament in 20 years.

Even amid a host of other accomplishments, Tuesday’s win over Argentina stands out for Renard, who is becoming known worldwide for far more than just his stunning features.

Watch Saudi Arabia stun Argentina

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England reminds Group B rivals they are all playing for second place

The Three Lions destroyed Iran 6-2 in their World Cup opener

England made a major statement in its World Cup opener, hammering Iran 6-2 to lay down a marker in Group B.

The Three Lions were always favored to finish atop a group that also includes the U.S. and Wales, but the emphatic nature of their win on Monday underlined their status as the class of their World Cup group.

It was England’s young stars who shined the brightest at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, with 19-year-old Jude Bellingham opening the scoring with a header before 21-year-old Bukayo Saka scored a brace in his first World Cup game.

After reaching the semifinal of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020, England entered the 2022 World Cup as one of the favorites and its performance against an overwhelmed Iranian side did nothing to dispel that notion.

Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford would also get on the scoresheet in a comprehensive win.

The only downside for England came in the second half, when defender Harry Maguire was forced off with a suspected head injury.

But the four-goal margin of victory set England on course to finish atop Group B, with goal differential as the first tiebreaker. Next up for the Three Lions is a showdown with the USMNT on Friday, which will be followed by a match against Wales on November 29.

Watch Bellingham and Saka’s goals vs. Iran

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Iran players refuse to sing national anthem amid protests at home

The expression was seen as a sign of solidarity with protesters back home

Iran’s players refused to sing their country’s national anthem ahead of their World Cup opener against England, seemingly in solidarity with anti-government protests back home.

Protests in Iran continue after the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who had been detained by the country’s morality police for failing to properly wear a hijab.

Reports have stated that hundreds of Iranians have been killed as the government has cracked down on demonstrations that have now been ongoing for two months.

In September, Iran star Sardar Azmoun said he stood with the protesters and even insisted he would be willing to risk banishment from the national team.

Speaking ahead of Monday’s game, Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi expressed his solidarity with the protesters.

“They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them regarding the conditions,” Hajsafi told a news conference.

“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he added. “We are here, but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

On the FS1 broadcast, Ian Darke also reported that many Iran fans booed the anthem.

Watch Iran’s national anthem before England game

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Let’s bask in some good World Cup injury news for a change

Son Heung-min will be in Qatar. Phew!

There has been plenty of bad news on the injury front recently, as the countdown to the World Cup moves into its final two weeks.

On Wednesday alone, Reece James was ruled out for England while Senegal star Sadio Mané appears to be very much in doubt after an injury suffered with Bayern Munich. The previous day, it was CONCACAF duo Chris Richards and Tecatito that saw their World Cup hopes end.

With that in mind we should take every opportunity to celebrate the rare bit of good news, which Son Heung-min thankfully provided on Wednesday.

Son suffered a fracture around his left eye earlier this month with Tottenham, leaving his status for the World Cup very much in doubt after he underwent surgery.

But the South Korea star took to Instagram on Wednesday to reassure nervous fans that he is set to take part in the tournament in Qatar.

“Hi everyone. I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you all for the messages of support I have received over the last week,” Son wrote.

“I have read so many of them and truly, truly appreciate you all. In a tough time I received a lot of strength from you! Playing for your country at the World Cup is the dream of so many children growing up, just as it was one of mine too. I won’t miss this for the world. I can’t wait to represent our beautiful country, see you soon.”

South Korea will open the World Cup against Uruguay on November 24, and will also face Portugal and Ghana in Group H.

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Former Whitecaps and Japan striker Masato Kudo dies at 32

The striker spent the 2016 season in MLS with the Whitecaps

Former Vancouver Whitecaps and Japan national team striker Masato Kudo has died at age 32.

Kudo’s team Tegevajaro Miyazaki confirmed the news in a statement, with the Whitecaps releasing a statement of their own later on Friday.

“Kudo was loved by all who had the pleasure of knowing him. He was kind, gracious, and his smile would light up the room,” the Whitecaps statement said.

“A Japanese international who represented his national team, Kudo joined Whitecaps FC for the 2016 MLS season.

“In-between his time in MLS, the striker played in his native Japan for Kashiwa Reysol, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Renofa Yamaguchi FC, and most recently Tegevajaro Miyazaki, as well as in Australia with Brisbane Roar.

“Whitecaps FC offer our condolences to Kudo’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

According to Tegevajaro Miyazaki, Kudo had been in the ICU since Monday after complications from brain surgery on October 11.

Kudo earned four caps for Japan during his career and played one season in MLS with the Whitecaps before moving back to his home country with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.