U.S. advances to round of 16 at World Cup with 1-0 victory over Iran

In a must-win game, the U.S. defeated Iran to advance to the next round of the World Cup. The game's tension was matched only by tensions off the field. JJ Devaney, co-host of the soccer podcast Caught Offside, joined Amna Nawaz to discuss the drama behind the game.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, it was a big moment for the U.S. soccer program today, as the men's team won a nail-biter to advance to the knockout round of the World Cup.

    It is just the third time the U.S. men have advanced to the round of 16. And it is an important victory after the team failed to qualify for the last World Cup.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the drama behind today's game.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, by any measure, this was a high-stakes match. In a must-win game, the U.S. held on to win 1-0 and stay alive in the World Cup. But that tension was matched only by tensions off the field, two geopolitical foes facing off, and the Iran's team under a white hot spotlight as anti-regime protests in the name of Mahsa Amini continue back home.

    For more on the game, the Cup and the politics of it all. I'm joined by J.J. Devaney, the co-host of the soccer podcast "Caught Offside."

    J.J., welcome, and thank you for being with us.

    I want to ask you first about that game, that glorious, heart-stopping, hard-fought game. The U.S. did pull out a win in the end. What stood out to you from the match?

    J.J. Devaney, Co-Host, "Caught Offside": I thought the dominance of the first half performance.

    I thought that U.S. midfield once again, Musah, McKennie, Adams, we're going to be listing those names like the founding fathers by the end of the tournament. They were — they were fantastic. They are the heartbeat of the team. We got the goal. Christian Pulisic put himself on the line, and then a second half that was needlessly tough and turgid for the U.S., and Iran almost getting that vital equalizer near the end.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes, second half, it had me screaming at the television quite a bit.

    But, when you look at this team, this is a U.S. men's national team that failed to even qualify for the World Cup in 2018. How big a moment is this win for them?

  • J.J. Devaney:

    It's huge. It's a huge moment.

    And when you take yourself back to that moment when we didn't qualify for Russia in 2018, the U.S. program was in turmoil. And now it's a completely young team. There's only one member of the 2014 World Cup site that remains in DeAndre Yedlin. So, the youth and the fervor of this team, for them to get out of the group at their first attempt was very, very important.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    J.J., as you well know, before a single minute was even played, the politics were part of this match.

    The protests back in Iran are now in their 10th week. The Iranian players in their very first match did not sing along to their national anthem. The U.S. soccer team briefly posted an altered image of Iran's flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, they said in support of Iranian women.

    Look, the games aren't being played in a vacuum, but are they usually this politically charged?

  • J.J. Devaney:

    Not really.

    I think this tournament has really highlighted politics in sport. It was always happening. Maybe we weren't paying attention. Maybe, with social media, we weren't so aware. But from the minute, the spotlight has been on Qatar as hosts, their human rights record, their attitude to LGBTQ+ people.

    So, there was a spotlight already on the tournament. And then it was heightened when the — when, obviously, the Iranian protests continued to really affect the team on the field, and then, of course, the action that was taken by the U.S. Soccer Federation, not by the team. I should say that.

    The team were unaware of the social media stance that USSF would take. And I think it caught them on the hop somewhat. And Gregg Berhalter in that press conference yesterday distanced the team from that decision.

    But you're right. There's a lot going on in this World Cup, and even Serbia and Albania involved in heightening that kind of that — that talk about that regional dispute, the Serbians putting a flag in their locker room before the Brazil game with the flag of Serbia and Kosovo superimposed over it.

    So this has been — this has been a tournament that really has highlighted geopolitical issues, and they have come to the fore.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned that press conference yesterday. That was fiery, to say the least. And you saw Iranian journalists in particular putting some really tough questions to U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, also to the U.S. captain, Tyler Adams.

    Adams was asked by one journalist if he is OK playing for a country in which there is so much discrimination against Black people. Adams said this in response to that, in part.

    He said: "There's discrimination everywhere you go. One thing I have learned, especially from living abroad in the past years, is having to fit in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures. He said: "In the U.S., we're continuing to make progress every single day. I think, as long as you see progress, that is the most important thing."

    J.J., you have watched a lot of these pre-match press conferences. What did you make watching that one?

  • J.J. Devaney:

    I thought it was extremely aggressive, and not usually the kind of topic that comes up in a press conference, a soccer press conference.

    I mean, the aggressive tone was from the start. First of all, Adams was attacked in terms of his — the way he pronounced Iran, and then taken to task over the racial injustice issues in the United States. Gregg Berhalter was asked questions about the position of U.S. Naval fleets in the Persian Gulf.

    So this was really just a kind of a — I think it was inflamed by the U.S. social media posts. And there seemed to be some kind of backlash from Iranian journalists, many of them state journalists. But you don't see that regularly. It's never usually like that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Of course, we have many more games to go.

    So, look ahead for me. The U.S. men's national team will now face the Netherlands in the next round, the knockout rounds. Can they win?

  • J.J. Devaney:

    Yes, they can.

    The Netherlands haven't exactly pulled up any trees. They did qualify with some ease out of their group. But they haven't quite been the team that we expected. They are vulnerable. And the U.S. have proven that they can control the ball, they can control the game. Can they score enough goals? That's the question.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's the question. We will be watching.

    J.J. Devaney, host of the soccer podcast "Caught Offside," thank you for joining us.

  • J.J. Devaney:

    Thanks for having me.

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