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


World Cup matches between two of the other teams in your team’s group can be entertaining, stressful and potentially confusing.

It could be that way for U.S. fans getting up early to watch Wales vs. Iran on Friday (5 a.m. ET on FS1 and the FOX Sports app), nine hours before the U.S. faces England ( 2 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) to complete the second round of Pool B games.

Fear not though, early rising World Cup fanatic, we’ve got you covered. If the fortunes of Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Matt Turner and co are dear to your heart, here’s what you should be shouting and screaming when Gareth Bale’s Wales meet an Iranian side determined to avenge their defeat by 6-2 against England.

First, let’s remember the obvious: there are three possible outcomes to the Wales-Iran match and no, even if it looks like it, they don’t all end with the opportunistic Bale scoring a crucial late goal.

A Wales win, an Iran win or a draw all have very different sets of realities for Americans, and there are very good reasons why there is a different pecking order of favorable outcomes.

Now, it might seem like it goes against the grain of soccer fandom to root for a tie, but that’s exactly what American fans should be doing. Celebrate the beauty of a 0-0 score line. If one team puts one in net, you immediately become a die-hard fan of the other, at least until things are even again.

If the game ends in a stalemate at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, that is the ideal result for Gregg Berhalter’s valiant troops.

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World Cup groups can be peculiar things. The reality, as things stand right now, is that it’s perfectly possible for the USA to qualify for the playoffs by just two points, or miss the Round of 16 by as many as five points. It all depends on how the games go.

We go into more detail about this in our scenario guide here, but in basic terms a draw has the effect of reducing the maximum total number of points that can be scored in the group, because tied games (one point each) only generate two . points, while a final result awards three (all to the winner).

If Wales and Iran draw, it would make it easier for the US to survive a loss to England, make the Americans instant favorites to top the group if they beat the English, and leave a number of positives if they draw.

The second most favorable outcome would be a win for Iran, however unlikely it may seem after their opening performance. In that case, the U.S. could lose to England and probably still qualify if they beat the Iranians in Game 3, barring a shock win by Wales over England and a change in goal difference.

By far the worst option would be for Wales to win. Sure, Major League Soccer club LAFC’s Twitter account created a stir when they celebrated Bale’s goal against the United States (they’re allowed to, they pay him), but the Stars and Stripes faithful should to root against Wales at any cost.

A Wales win sets up a potentially brutal scenario for the United States, because if the Americans later lose to England, things would be out of their hands. Even a win against Iran in the third match could be futile, depending on the outcome of the England and Wales match.

There is no hint of collusion, certainly not between enemies as archaic as Britain’s neighbours, but history tells us that when both teams benefit from a specific result, it usually happens.

If that’s too much of a stretch, well, that’s what sports fans do. Fortunately, the American team seems to be a balanced group, not getting too caught up in the minutiae.

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

Brad Jenkins, following the national team in his quest, randomly applied for Wales-Iran tickets months ago, thinking it would be a nice way to get the England-USA clash.

“At the time, I didn’t think this game could have such a big impact for our team,” Jenkins told me. “Based on what you’re telling me, I guess I’ll be cheering for a draw.”

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


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