Political foes the US and Iran will face off on Tuesday in their final group B match in a game that will likely see one country continue its World Cup journey in Qatar at the expense of the other.
Iran has three points from two games after losing 6-2 to England in its first game but winning 2-0 against Wales in its second game.
The US has two points from two games, having drawn its first two games against Wales and England.
The team that wins the match will advance into the next round, the last 16. If the game ends in a draw, the US will be eliminated, but Iran will have to see what happens in the other final game in group B, England versus Wales.
Assuming England avoids defeat against Wales, as it is expected to do, a draw in the US-Iran match will see Iran reach the last 16.
That gives Iran the upper hand going into the match, as a mere draw will likely see them reach the last 16. On the other hand, the US can only advance with a win.
A win would not only take the US to the knockout stage but would also avenge its 2-1 loss to Iran in 1998, the last time the two countries faced each other at a World Cup.
The match kicks off at 22:00 local time (19:00 GMT).
Washington and Tehran severed ties in 1980, shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic that currently rules in Tehran.
Relations between the US and Iran today are undoubtedly more tense than they were in 1998, given Tehran’s domestic repression, its rapidly expanding nuclear program, and its destabilizing activities abroad.
Protests have swept across Iran since September 16 when 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died three days after collapsing in police custody.
Demonstrators have been calling for regime change in the protests which have become one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
Security forces have killed hundreds and detained thousands, according to rights groups.
Earlier this week, the US Soccer Federation temporarily removed the Islamic Republic’s emblem from Iran’s flag on its social media platforms to show support for Iranian protesters.
This prompted Iran to complain to the world football’s governing body FIFA and call for the US to be expelled from the World Cup.
Many Iranians have turned against their national football team amid the ongoing unrest in their country. They see the team as representing the regime rather than the people of Iran. Some in Iran went as far as celebrating Iran’s 6-2 defeat in its opening World Cup match against England, posts on social media showed.
The Iranian players chose not to sing their country’s national anthem at the match against England, in an apparent show of support for the protests. But they did sing the anthem in their second match against Wales.
The families of the Iranian players have been threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players fail to “behave” ahead of the match against the US, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing a source involved in the security of the games.
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