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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Who should USA fans root for in Iran vs. Wales?


World Cup games between two of the other squads in your team’s group can be entertaining, nerve-wracking and potentially confusing.  

It might be like that for United States fans who get up early to watch Wales vs. Iran on Friday (5 a.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports App), nine hours before the USA clashes with England (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) to complete the second round of games in Group B. 

Yet fear not, early rising World Cup fanatic, we’ve got you covered. If the fortunes of Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Matt Turner and company are dear to your heart, here’s what you should be screaming and yelling for when Gareth Bale’s Wales meet an Iran side determined to atone for its 6-2 defeat to England

First of all, let’s remind ourselves of something obvious: There are three possible outcomes from the Wales-Iran game and no, even though it might seem like it, they don’t all end with the opportunistic Bale scoring a crucial late goal. 

A Wales win, an Iran win, or a tie, all have a very different set of realities for the Americans, and there are very good reasons why there is a distinct pecking order of favorable results. 

Now, it might seem to go against the entire grain of soccer fandom to root for a draw, but that’s exactly what American supporters should be doing. Celebrate the beauty of a 0-0 score line. If one team puts one in the net, immediately become a die-hard fan of the other, at least until matters are level again. 

If the game ends deadlocked at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, that is comprehensively the ideal result for Gregg Berhalter’s plucky troop.  

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World Cup groups can be quirky things. The reality, as things stand right now, is that it is perfectly feasible for the USA to qualify to the elimination rounds with only two points, or to miss out on the round of 16 with as many as five points. It all depends on how the games go. 

We get deep into the weeds on this in our scenarios guide here — but in basic terms a tie has the effect of reducing the maximum total number of points that can be scored in the group, because tied games (one point each) generate only two points, whereas a definitive result confers three (all to the winner). 

If Wales and Iran tie, it makes it easier for the USA to survive a loss to England, would make the Americans the instant favorites to top the group if they beat the English, and leaves a string of positive possibilities if they tie. 

The second-most favorable outcome would be an Iran victory, unlikely as that might seem after its opening performance. In that instance, the USA could lose to England and still probably qualify if they beat the Iranians in the third game, barring a shock Wales victory over England and a shift in goal differential. 

Far and away the worst option would be for Wales to win. Sure, the Twitter account of Major League Soccer club LAFC created a ruckus when they celebrated Bale’s goal against the USA — they’re allowed to, they pay his wages — but Stars and Stripes loyalists should be rooting against Wales at all costs. 

A Wales win sets up a potentially brutal scenario for the USA, because if the Americans later lost to England, matters would be out of their own hands. Even a win against Iran in the third game might be to no avail depending on the result of the England and Wales game. 

There is no hint of collusion — certainly not between such arch enemies as the British neighbors — but history tells us that when both teams benefit from a specific result, it usually happens. 

If this is too much overthinking, well, that’s what sports fans do. Thankfully, the USA squad appear to be a level-headed bunch, not getting too caught up in the minutiae. 

There’s not much they can do about it, in any case. However, for some American fans here in Qatar, there is. 

Brad Jenkins, following the national team on its quest, randomly applied for tickets to Wales-Iran months ago, figuring it would be a pleasant way to build up to the England-USA showdown. 

“At the time, it wasn’t on mind that this game could have such big repercussions for our team,” Jenkins told me. “Based off what you’re telling me, I guess I’ll be cheering for a tie.” 

 Read more from the World Cup:

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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