Iran seemed to be back to the performance levels that earned them a place at the World Cup during the 2-0 victory over Wales, with any ideas of Team Melli being the whipping boys of the group after a heavy defeat to England swiftly banished thanks to late goals from Roozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian.
The availability from the start of Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun against Wales gave Carlos Queiroz’s side more attacking threat, with the 27-year-old combining well with talisman Mehdi Taremi who unlike the first match of the group had a capable partner in crime at the top end of the pitch.
Azmoun has been sidelined for his club side since early October with a calf injury and was down receiving treatment on three separate occasions before miraculously rising to his feet to continue, with the 40-goal international eventually being forced off after 68 minutes as his side chased a winner.
Now sitting second in Group B with three points from two matches, Iran knows a win against the USA secures passage to the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in their history – although even a draw on Tuesday would be enough if Wales fail to beat England.
Fellow Asian qualifiers Japan and Saudi Arabia have caused significant upsets within the first week of this World Cup, and Iran could add to the success stories from that region by advancing past the group stages for the first time on Tuesday night.
Despite not being able to return maximum points from any of their two opening games at this tournament, Gregg Berhalter’s US side has shown they are set to be a new prospect in international football with a young crop of energetic and athletic stars.
After decades of Americans competing at the top level in Europe being a rare sight, 10 such players donned the stars and stripes on Friday night and overran England for large parts of the encounter, with only poor finishing preventing Berhalter’s men from earning their first World Cup win over the Three Lions since 1950.
Weston McKennie blasted a strike over from inside the box after evading the attention of Bukayo Saka, whilst shortly after Christian Pulisic struck the bar with a ferocious effort which had Jordan Pickford scrambling to deflect the ball away from goal.
What stood out for the USA was their athleticism and sharpness compared to their English counterparts, with full-backs Sergino Dest and Fulham’s Antonee Robinson providing pace on the wings whilst Tyler Adams kept Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount under wraps in the midfield.
A knockout tie with either Netherlands, Ecuador, or Senegal awaits Berhalter’s side should they defeat Iran on Tuesday, and if the Stars and Stripes can find their ruthlessness in front of goal they could be a real threat to the elite nations in the latter stages of this competition.
Iran Team News
Star striker Sardar Azmoun has only managed 81 minutes across Iran’s first two games after coming to this World Cup off the back of an injury-hit start to his club season with Bayer Leverkusen.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh is suspended as a result of picking up two yellow cards so far, while Roozbeh Cheshmi is pushing for a start after scoring against Wales.
Iran predicted lineup vs USA
Iran Starting 11 (4-4-2): H. Hosseini; Rezaeian, M. Hosseini, Pouraliganji; Mohammadi; Gholizadeh, Nourollahi, Ezatolahi, Hajsafi; Taremi, Ansarifard
Bench: Abedzadeh, Niazmand, Cheshmi, Torabi, Karimi, Khalilzadeh, Moharrami, Kanaani, Jalali, Amiri, Ghoddos, Azmoun
USA Team News
Gregg Berhalter resisted many teams tinkering between the first two games, naming the same back four and midfield. The only change was Josh Sargent dropping out for Haji Wright against England. So far, the U.S. has lacked enough attacking penetration.
Giovanni Reyna’s omission as a starter has been an odd saga, with claims from USMNT legend Eric Wynalda that the Borussia Dortmund teenager isn’t injured as Berhalter had stated.
USA predicted lineup vs Iran
USA Starting 11 (4-3-3): Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; McKennie, Adams, Musah; Reyna, Ferreira, Pulisic
Bench: Horvath, Johnson, Moore, Scally, Yedlin, Carter-Vickers, Long, De La Torre, Weah, Sargent, Roldan, Morris, Acosta, Wright, Aaronson
Iran vs USA Prediction
Even with a heavy defeat to England under their belt, Iran has arguably looked like the better team across the two games so far. They finished strongly in that 6-2 defeat and probably should have scored against Wales long before they did.
Things haven’t clicked for the Americans so far. They let a lead slip against Wales and couldn’t find the necessary quality against England despite outshooting their illustrious rivals.
If Iran wins, they will write a new chapter in their football history.
Prediction: Iran 2-1 USA