Iranian journalists hijacked a World Cup press conference today to ask US players how they felt about ‘representing a racist country’ – before berating them for pronouncing the name of their country wrong.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and his captain Tyler Adams faced a barrage of politically-charged questions from reporters from Iran who seemingly had no interest in discussing the match set to take place in Qatar’s Al Thumama stadium tomorrow night.
Instead, the pair were intensely quizzed on systemic racism in America, strict U.S. visa rules in place against Iranian citizens and Uncle Sam’s naval presence fleet in the Persian Gulf, to name a few subjects.
Adams even faced flak from one journalist for his American pronunciation of ‘aye-ran’ during the half-hour press conference, from which the pair likely emerged feeling as though they had endured an interrogation.
It comes after the U.S. soccer federation displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic in support of anti-regime protests in the country, causing Iran’s government to call on FIFA to expel Team USA from the tournament.
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter of the United States and player Tyler Adams attend a press conference on the eve of the group B World Cup soccer match between Iran and the United States in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022
Tyler Adams (L) and Gregg Berhalter (R) looked exasperated as they fielded a series of politically charged questions from Iranian reporters at their pre-match press conference
Players of Iran celebrate victory after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and Iran at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Doha, Qatar
The first question from an Iranian journalist immediately set the tone for what proved to be a highly charged encounter.
The reporter asked Berhalter: ‘What percentage of the world’s population will be happy if Iran wins this match [versus a U.S. national team (USMNT) victory]?’ forcing the coach to try and mediate the tension.
‘For us it’s a soccer game against a good team – it’s not much more than that,’ Berhalter responded in an attempt to avoid the obvious political implications of the question.
Unsurprisingly, the coach’s efforts to refocus the line of questioning on the football were resoundingly ignored.
Minutes later, a journalist from Press TV – an English language Iranian news organisation – said: ‘First of all you say you support the Iranian people but you’re pronouncing our country’s name wrong. Our country is name Iran, not ”aye-ran”…
‘Second of all, are you okay to be representing your country that has so much discrimination against black people in its own borders?’ he asked pointedly.
Adams, whose mother is a White American but whose biological father is African-American, responded cordially: ‘My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go… in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every single day… as long as you make progress that’s the most important thing.’
Other journalists for their part tried to pull the conversation back towards the clash on the pitch, with one U.S. reporter specifying he intended to ask a ‘soccer question’ to offer a brief reprieve.
But the next question from Iranian media immediately pulled back to the political issues, asking: ‘Sport is something that should bring nations closer together and you are a sportsperson. Why is it that you should not ask your government to take away its military fleet from the Persian Gulf?’
‘I agree, sport is something that should bring countries together… you get to compete as brothers’ Berhalter said, drawing comparisons between the Olympics and the World Cup, but refused to touch on the fraught bilateral relations between U.S. and Iran.
By the end of the conference it was clear Berhalter had grown tired of the questioning, responding to a query on strict U.S. visa laws for Iranian citizens with: ‘I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a soccer coach.
‘I’m not well versed on international politics so I can’t comment on that.’
Iran’s Portuguese head coach Carlos Quieroz today told reporters he hoped the next World Cup would be more about the football and less about the politics
USA’s forward Christian Pulisic dribbles the ball during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match between England and USA
For his part, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz today said he hoped the next World Cup would feature less about politics and more about the football, stressing there were better ways to use the sport as a force for good.
Queiroz’s team have been dragged into a political crisis at home, pressured by protesters seeking to challenge the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical rulers to side with them publicly and condemn a deadly state crackdown.
Speaking ahead of his team’s Group B match on Tuesday against the United States, Queiroz was asked about the U.S. Soccer federation temporarily displaying Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, in solidarity with the protest movement.
‘I still believe I can win games with those mental games,’ he told a news conference.
‘Those events surrounding this World Cup I hope will be a lesson for all of us in the future and we learn that our mission is here to create entertainment and for 90 minutes make people happy.’
For the USMNT, the task is clear when it plays Iran in its final Group B game: Win or go home.
While many teams including Iran could still advance to the knockout phase of the tournament under several permutations, the Americans have no choice but to get the three points that come with a victory.
‘It sets up our first knockout game of the World Cup,’ U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.
‘We win or we’re out of the World Cup. Anytime you’re in a World Cup and you get to go into the last group game in control of your own destiny, that’s a pretty good thing.’
USA’s midfielder Tyler Adams during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Group B match between England vs United States at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022
Roozbeh Cheshmi of IR Iran celebrates with teammates after scoring their team’s first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and IR Iran at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Doha, Qatar
The USMNT sits third in the group with two points after tying Wales 1-1 and then England 0-0 in an impressive defensive effort. The top two teams advance.
England has four points, Iran has three and Wales sits last with one point but is still alive in a long-shot scenario.
Getting a goal, much less a victory, will be a challenge for the United States since Iran only needs a tie to advance as long as Wales does not upset England.
Iran, which has never advanced out of the group stage, opened the World Cup with a 6-2 loss to England but rebounded for a 2-0 win over Wales.
‘I really have to thank the Iranian fans. They helped us play 90 minutes of beautiful football,’ Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said.
‘Now, we have to concentrate on the USA. We haven’t finished yet.’
The USMNT last reached the final 16 of the World Cup in 2014. The Americans did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup and their best finish was a spot in the 2002 quarterfinals.
Iran defeated the U.S. 2-1 in 1998 in only World Cup meeting between the countries.
Mehdi Taremi has two of Iran’s four goals during this World Cup. Timothy Weah is responsible for the Americans’ lone tally.