United States coach Gregg Berhalter challenged his team to focus on delivering their own required performances rather than background noise surrounding the all-or-nothing final Group B game against Iran.
Having recovered from their opening 6-2 defeat by England to beat Wales, Carlos Queiroz’s squad stand on the verge of Iran taking a place in the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time.
The USA, meanwhile, have two points after being held by Wales then battling to a goalless draw against England.
"We can go toe to toe with anyone in the world."
48 hours til our Group B finale. pic.twitter.com/EKNxIa7kEZ
— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 27, 2022
Only a win at the Al Thumama Stadium will see Berhalter’s squad through to the last 16 in a match which has been overshadowed by a controversial build-up.
The Iranian Football Federation complained to FIFA about the USA removing the Islamic Republic symbol from the nation’s flag in some social media posts.
With official diplomatic relations between the two countries having been cut in 1980, there is also a political undercurrent against a backdrop of widespread anti-government protests in Iran.
Berhalter, though, insists the focus for him and his players must remain on football.
“When I think about this match, I know that a lot of other constituents have another feeling towards it, but for us, it is a soccer game against a good team. It’s not much more,” said Berhalter, who stressed none of the coaches or players had been made aware of the social media posts before they went online.
“It’s a knockout game, both teams want to go to the next round and are desperate to go to the next round – and that’s how we’re looking at this match. We are very focused on what we do as a team, as are they.”
Berhalter added: “I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years.
“We have 72 hours between England and Iran. We really are just focused on how to get past Iran to go to the knockout stage of the tournament.
“Of course our thoughts are with the people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone – but our focus is on this match.
A look at the Group B standings after tonight's draw with USA.
— England (@England) November 25, 2022
“We are not looking backwards – there is no talk about the performance against Wales or England now.
“It is really focused on how we can be successful against Iran, and what I see from the group is this tremendous amount of focus, there is no real distractions.
“I know there is a lot going on here, but the group is focused on how do we get a way (into the last 16).”
USA captain Tyler Adams echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We support Iran’s people and Iran’s team, but that being said, we are laser focused on this match, as they are as well,” the Leeds midfielder said.
“We know how important this is for us and we want to prove to our country we have been working and we know they want to do exactly the same.
“It is going to be a tough battle. You have got to have a lot of energy in this game and make sure that we are mentally prepared.”
Iran coach Queiroz is determined his team will also adopt the right mindset.
“We have a strong belief that we can play good football tomorrow,” Quierez said. “Good football is the starting point to increase our opportunities to win, and this is exactly our focus.
“When we have the ball, we will try to keep it, enjoy it and to build up our opportunities.
“To win or not to win, this is in the hands of the gods of football and not in our control.”