The US defeated Iran 1-0 in their latest clash in the Middle East, as they faced off on the field in the World Cup in a match charged by both the importance of the tournament and political tensions.
The match on Tuesday is the most important of this round for the two teams as it will decide who moves on to the knockout stage of the tournament.
The teams were playing within one of eight groups randomly selected in a lottery before the game from the qualifying teams. Each group includes four teams, with each of the four teams playing the other teams in its respective group.
The US and Iran were in Group B, alongside Wales and England.
The US and England, which won its match against Wales 3-0 on Tuesday night, will move on to the round of 16.
Jewish athletes on the American team
There are two players on the US team of Jewish descent including DeAndre Yedlin who was raised Jewish and whose mother is Jewish, and goalie Matt Turner, whose father is Jewish and who identifies strongly with the Jewish tradition.
Political tensions on the playing field
The match between the US and Iran also comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US as Iran brutally cracks down on nationwide protests and continues to move forward with its nuclear program.
On Monday, the US Soccer Federation published the flag of Iran without the Islamic emblem in the middle on social media, sparking outrage from Iranian officials who called for the US to be kicked out of the World Cup.
By posting a distorted image of the flag of the Islamic Republic of #Iran on its official account, the #US football team breached the @FIFAcom charter, for which a 10-game suspension is the appropriate penalty. Team #USA should be kicked out of the #WorldCup2022 pic.twitter.com/c8I4i4z3Tv— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) November 27, 2022
"By posting a distorted image of the flag of the Islamic Republic of #Iran on its official account, the #US football team breached the @FIFAcom charter, for which a 10-game suspension is the appropriate penalty," wrote the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Twitter. "Team USA should be kicked out of the World Cup 2022."
The images with the modified flag have since been deleted, with the soccer federation telling American media outlets that the posts were meant to show support for Iranian protesters.
In response to questions about the post, US coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters that “We had no idea about what US Soccer put out. The staff, the players, we had no idea. All we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff," according to CNN.
During a press conference at the World Cup on Monday night, Iranian state-affiliated reporters began launching political questions at the captain of the US team, Tyler Adams.
A reporter from Iran's Press TV complained that Adams was pronouncing the name of the country wrong and asked the coach if he was "ok to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against black people in its own borders."
Iranian media has been hyping up the game, with articles and posts stressing the political importance of the game and ridiculing the US.
The Mehr News Agency published articles saying a victory by the Iranian team would be "important for the Arab world." The Tasnim News Agency published tweets saying US military personnel were being brought to the game to compensate for the lack of American spectators.
Iran worked with Qatar to suppress opposition, threatened athletes
On Sunday, the Black Reward hacktivist group leaked a recording of an Iranian Basij official telling a reporter about how Iranian authorities worked with Qatar to suppress any anti-regime expressions at the ongoing FIFA World Cup.
Basij commander General Ghasem Ghoreyshi told a Fars news reporter in the leaked recording that Qatar had provided a list of Iranians who had bought tickets to the games, noting that 500 individuals known for anti-regime activity were on the list.
Qatar had a few deals with Iran, including one agreement to not allow the mentioned individuals into the country and another agreement to prevent Iran International reporters from entering the country.
The leak also included three documents besides for the recording, including two documents concerning coverage of the World Cup and one document listing network users at the news agency.
In one of the documents, media officials warned that athletes have taken action to "legitimize" the protests sweeping Iran, warning that the possibility of protest actions during the World Cup "should be taken seriously and managed with calculated mechanisms."
The media officials recommended threatening to kick players off the team for any "unprofessional behavior" or for "non-conventional actions such as not singing the anthem, interviews with anti-revolutionary media, wearing black tape, etc."
The families of Iran's national team have been threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players fail to "behave," a source involved in the security of the World Cup told CNN on Tuesday.
According to the report, after refusing to sing the national anthem in their opening match, the players met with an IRGC official who threatened their families with "violence and torture" if they did not sing it in the next match. In their next match, the players did sing the anthem. The players also sang the national anthem at the match on Tuesday.
“There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,” the source added.
Iranian officials arrive in Qatar ahead of match
Iranian Sports Minister Hamid Sajjadi, as well as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri arrived in Doha on Tuesday, according to Iranian media.
The sports minister and additional officials from his ministry met with the country's national team and wished them success.
Bagheri was invited by his Qatari counterpart to discuss bilateral relations and regional and international issues, according to Mehr.