Updated Nov 29, 2022 - Sports

Geopolitical tensions loom over U.S.-Iran World Cup match

Iran fan

An Iran fan protests during Iran's match against Wales. Photo: Youssef Loulidi/Getty Images

The USMNT's win-or-go-home match against Iran has become more than a game amid heightened geopolitical turmoil.

Catch up quick: Iran's morality police, tasked with enforcing strict codes around women's dress and behavior, arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September for improperly wearing her hijab. Amini died in custody, allegedly after being beaten by officers.

  • Her death was the catalyst for the uprising that has erupted across the country as citizens protest women's lack of rights. At least 450 protesters have been killed, and another 18,000 arrested.
  • President Biden said "we're gonna free Iran" in a speech this month, and the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned multiple Iranian officials for their anti-protest behavior.

State of play: Iranian soccer players have continually supported the protesters, covering their uniforms before a September friendly and refusing to sing the national anthem before their World Cup opener.

  • Some players have remained close with top government officials, though, with two staging a controversial photoshoot with the president at his office days before leaving for Qatar.
  • The Iranian government on Monday threatened players' families with imprisonment and torture if they fail to "behave" before today's game, CNN reports.

The latest: In its own act of protest, U.S. Soccer removed the Islamic Republic's emblem from the Iranian flag in a since-deleted social media post this weekend to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights," per AP.

  • Iran responded by calling for the USMNT to be expelled from the World Cup.
  • U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter apologized for the post on Monday, saying he and his players had no idea it was coming.

Flashback: The last World Cup match between the U.S. and Iran in 1998 is considered one of the most politically charged ever, with the nations referring to each other as "The Great Satan" and an "outlaw state." Iran won that match, 2-1, to knock out the Americans.

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