The United States Men’s National Team has reached the end of the group stage at the 2022 World Cup, carrying draws against Wales and England, 1-1 and 0-0, respectively. The final remaining opponent before the knockout rounds is Iran, currently sitting at second. Three points is a necessity, with anything less resulting in a quick exit from the competition. Al-Thumama Stadium in the capital city of Doha is playing host to what should be a hotly-contested tactical chess match.
This is the third all-time meeting between the two nations, with Iran holding a 1-0-1 advantage. Currently ranked 20th in the world by FIFA, Team Melli qualified for the final round by finishing atop the Asian Football Confederation’s Group A with an 8-1-1 record and is looking to improve upon group-stage exits in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, and 2018. In the run-up to the competition, friendlies were a bit of a mixed bag, although September’s victory over Uruguay was an uplifting result.
Iran appointed Carlos Queiroz to the manager role in September, replacing Dragan Skočić following “a change in leadership at the Iranian football federation.” The Portuguese coaching veteran previously held the role from 2011 through 2019, twice securing qualification in 2014 and 2018 but falling in the group stage. The 69-year-old has experience leading his home country twice, Sporting, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Real Madrid, Colombia, and, most recently, Egypt. His return is said to have brought excitement and good spirit to the players, alternating between strict order and humor.
Lista de Irán para #Qatar2022— Sphera Sports (@SpheraSports) November 13, 2022
Los medios del país informaban de presiones del gobierno a Queiroz para desconvocar a jugadores que protestaron públicamente a raíz del asesinato de Mahsa Amini.
El técnico luso no ha cedido y ha convocado a Azmoun y compañía pic.twitter.com/RLM7RgL3jy
Queiroz named a 25-player roster for the World Cup, one short of the maximum allowable number. The domestic Persian Gulf Pro League provides nine call-ups, all from power clubs Persepolis, Sepahan, and Esteghlal Tehran. There are 13 talents competing in European leagues, including the German Bundesliga, the English Premier League, and the Dutch Eredivisie.
GOALKEEPERS (4): Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Payam Niazmand (Sepahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Ponferradina), Hossein Hosseini (Esteghlal)
DEFENDERS (10): Sadegh Moharrami (Dinamo Zagreb), Ehsan Hajsafi (Athens), Shojae Khalilzadeh (Al-Ahli), Milad Mohammadi (AEK Athens), Morteza Pouraliganji (Persepolis), Hossein Kanaanizadegan (Al-Ahli), Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor), Ramin Rezaeian (Sepahan), Abolfazl Jalali (Esteghlal)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Saeid Ezatolahi (Vejle), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis), Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi), Ali Karimi (Kayserispor), Ahmad Nourollahi (Shabab Al-Ahli)
FORWARDS (3): Mehdi Taremi (Porto), Karim Ansarifard (Omonia), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen)
Queiroz typically deploys a 4-1-4-1 formation that shifts into a 4-5-1 when defending, an attempt to naturally clog the center and force the run of play outside. However, the decision was made to use a five-player back line during the first World Cup fixtures, which failed to prevent England from dominating in the air but could be more effective against a USMNT lacking a true target presence. The Wales match was another shift, this time to a 4-4-2 that involved both strikers pressing the opponents.
According to Omar Mokhtar of Breaking the Lines, the tendency is to “defend wide” and be aggressive when trying to regain possession, with advancing fullbacks taking on an active role. The attack is fast and vertical, with the intention of getting the ball to the mobile striker and wingers as quickly as possible. Center backs opt to drop deep into the box, creating space at the top of the area and daring opponents to shoot from distance.
In the first two matches, Iran completely surrendered possession to the opponent but managed to generate a decent number of chances. England’s wide overloads were able to stretch out the compact defense and create pockets of space. Against Wales, the far-side fullback was kept isolated from the run of play, committed to marking the opposing winger, which prevented field switches.
Queiroz was already forced to make a major decision, replacing starting goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand 19 minutes into the England fixture after the goalkeeper suffered a head injury. His replacement, the acrobatic Hossein Hosseini, had a bad day at the office, surrendering six goals, but acquitted himself in the succeeding match against Wales. The 30-year-old competes with Esteghlal in the domestic league, displaying quick reflexes and even faster distribution. He takes a slightly advanced position off his line which gives him a head start on closing off opponents’ angles.
After featuring in all three matches at the 2018 World Cup, Majid Hosseini of Kayserispor took a circuitous route back to the starting lineup. The 26-year-old became a regular at the end of qualifying and appears to be the most stable inclusion across both manager’s tenures. He is a strong passer and wins his share of duels, although timing can be an issue. Also protecting the fort is Morteza Pouraliganji, a strong and capable aerial presence. Often the last line of defense, his well-timed ability to put out fires prevents several attacks by the opponent. Persepolis’ Rouzbeh Cheshmi (sometimes stylized “Roozbeh”) provides the expected flexibility of a midfielder-defender, able to handle himself in possession while also providing the necessary physicality to shut down attacks. At 6’4”, the Tehrani quickly looks to break forward when regaining the ball and is a danger in the box on set pieces.
Chesmi from outside the box scores at the 98th minutes to take the lead against Wales— OLT (@CHAMPIONOLT) November 25, 2022
Heartbreak from the Garett bale led sidepic.twitter.com/9nOCokOVxq
The presumed starter at left back is Milad Mohammadi of AEK Athens, a stable and comfortable presence who stays involved on both sides of the game. He is a fairly technical dribbler and often unsettles the opponent with his machinations, even if not directly responsible for the resulting goal. On the other side of the formation is Dinamo Zagreb’s Sadegh Moharrami, who constantly links up with the midfielders and looks to make an overlapping run in the final third. The 26-year-old is elusive and dynamic with the pace and creativity to work out of pressure.
After being absent from the squad for a very long time, Ali Karimi made his return during Iran’s first match of the competition against England. The Kayserispor midfielder occupies the area in front of the back line and is a high-volume passer with a relatively high accuracy. He is a dangerous presence in the final third, with the potential to drive a long-distance shot or locate a teammate. His partner could be Ahmad Nourollahi of the UAE Pro League’s Shabab Al Ahli, another deep-lying distributor. The 29-year-old makes quick decisions and has the agility to match his thought process, turning and leaving the opponent behind with little warning.
⏱️ | Retour sur ce goal d'Ali Gholizadeh en mode buzzer-beater ! pic.twitter.com/NdBQTzkn8g— Eleven Sports (FR) (@ElevenSportsBEf) May 10, 2022
Alireza Jahanbakhsh picked up his second yellow of the group stage and is out for the match against the USMNT. Ehsan Hajsafi of AEK Athens is primarily a defensive presence but pushes deep into the final third and hits more than two crosses per 90 minutes. The 32-year-old is also capable of operating in the middle of the field and linking up during more compact possession play. Sporting Charleroi’s Ali Gholizadeh can be quite the goal-scoring attacker on the right day, finding the back of the net eight times last season. He is a tricky and audacious dribbler who heads straight at defenders, having the composure to work out of pressure and create space with as many cuts as necessary. If Queiroz is looking to go all out for three points, Mehdi Torabi can be relied upon to start forays and finish. His refusal to quit after losing the ball leads to additional opportunities, a dogged mentality that can be the difference between advancement and heading home.
Leading the formation is Mehdi Taremi of Porto, who has been named to the Primeira Liga’s Team of the Year three consecutive times. The 6’1” striker has contributed an eye-catching 13 goals and eight assists this season, including five finishes in the Champions League. He typically drops deeper into the left side to receive possession and serves as a crucial cog of the build-up. Breaking the Lines describes him as a “technically gifted football” with a strong aerial presence” and physicality, scoring in a variety of different ways while constantly involved. If Queiroz opts for another 4-4-2, Sardar Azmoun will play a key off-the-ball role and stretch the opponents. The “Iranian Messi” has struggled to match previous production since moving to Bayer Leverkusen, but his pace and ability to find space will prove useful.
Heading into the World Cup, the USMNT and Iran could have perhaps been considered relative outsiders when compared to England. However, both nations are in a position to advance to the knockout rounds. With a victory required for Gregg Berhalter, the match should be the typical duel between a desperately attacking side against an opponent packing the box, unless Queiroz goes against conventional wisdom and shakes the tactical snow globe.
The match is scheduled for Tuesday, November 29th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX, Telemundo, the FOX Sports App, and FUBO TV (free trial).