A scoreless draw would have been preferred, but the United States men’s national team should still be pleased with Iran’s dramatic 2–0 win over Wales on Friday at the World Cup. There's plenty that remains to be done if the U.S. hopes to advance from Group B, but the picture has come into greater focus.
In a game that featured a Wales red card and two goals after the 97th minute from Iran, Team Melli earned the three points just days after a crushing 6–2 defeat at the hands of England. The win, for now, puts Iran into a tie with England atop the group on three points, while England enjoys a plus-4 goal differential heading into its second group game against the U.S. later Friday.
Wales, meanwhile, sits at the bottom of the group on minus-2 goal differential and one point from its group-opening draw with the U.S. The loss to Iran sets up a handful of scenarios for the U.S.
An upset win against England would put the U.S. into first place in the group on four points and in a favorable position (albeit, not yet secured) to advance to the knockout stage—a draw vs. Iran would be enough. Meanwhile, a draw with England would give the U.S. two points—one behind Iran’s three—heading into the final group stage game against Iran, which means it would need a win against Iran to advance.
The beauty of the Iran win for the U.S. is that it can still lose to England and advance to the knockout stage with a win against Iran—as long as Wales doesn’t beat England and make up the goal-differential gap. But a loss to England and a draw with Iran, or draws against both England and Iran, would see the U.S. miss out on advancing.
Essentially: if the U.S. draws or loses to England, its group finale against Iran becomes a must-win, while a win opens up a wider path to a top-two group finish and a place in the last 16.
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