Who: Iran vs USA

Where: Al Thumama Stadium in Al Thumama, Qatar

When: Tuesday, November 29 at 10pm (19:00 GMT)

FIFA ranking: Iran (20), USA (16)

A grudge match between Iran and the USA, two countries divided by politics and a history of enmity, brought together by the World Cup draw for a rare matchup, in a game seized upon by partisans on both sides to denounce their opponent.

And even since the World Cup began, there have been controversies. Iran has asked for the USA to be thrown out of the tournament after a US Soccer social media post used an altered version of the Iranian flag. And the former USA manager, the German Jurgen Klinsmann, has angered Iran by saying that unsportsmanlike behaviour was part of Iran’s “culture” while speaking to the BBC.

That was how the game was billed at the 1998 World Cup, when Iran went on to win 2-1 over the Americans. And while some supporters of Iran’s government used the win as evidence of their country’s inevitable victory over the “Great Satan”, it was also seen by others as an opportunity to show that the beautiful game could overcome divisions, emblemised by a pre-match photo with players from both teams intermingled amongst each other.

Fast forward to 2022, and the two have been drawn together again in the group stage. The political divide is still there – and if anything, it’s more entrenched.

Iran and the USA can’t find agreement on a nuclear deal, leaving the former under the latter’s sanctions. Anti-government protests in Iran have attracted the world’s attention and the condemnation of the United States government. The Iranians accuse the Americans of being among those behind the protests.

Iranian fans, for their part, are still divided over whether to even support the team, in light of the protests calling for women’s rights in Iran. Some in the anti-government camp fear that an Iranian victory over the USA will be used by the government for propaganda.

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