After all that waiting, after months of qualifying, the United States men’s soccer team finally learned its World Cup opponents at the tournament’s official draw on Friday: England, Iran and a question mark in the form of a European team that has yet to be determined.
“These are the games that you want to be a part of,” United States captain Tyler Adams said. “You get to test your abilities against the best players in the world.”
Once it arrives in Qatar, the United States won’t have to wait long to get started.
The Americans will open the tournament on its first day, Nov. 21, with a match against the winner of a June European playoff: either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine. Each of the teams would arrive with its own World Cup story: Scotland hasn’t played in soccer’s biggest championship since 1998; Wales hasn’t qualified since 1958; and Ukraine, should it qualify for its second World Cup, and first since 2006, would be playing only months after Russia invaded its territory.
A day-after-Thanksgiving matchup against England comes next, on Nov. 25, and the United States will close the group stage against Iran four days after that, on Nov. 29.
The U.S. team has previous World Cup experience against its two known opponents. It last met England in the tournament in 2010, when the teams played a 1-1 group-stage draw in Rustenburg, South Africa. England had taken an early lead that day before goalkeeper Rob Green surrendered one of the softest goals in England’s World Cup history on a long-distance shot by Clint Dempsey.
The Americans’ last meeting against Iran in the World Cup — in 1998 in France — was also the teams’ first meeting on a soccer field. Iran won that day, 2-1, eliminating the Americans from a tournament in which they eventually finished last.
And while both teams made a show of promoting peace after years of bitter political fights between their countries, not everyone got in the spirit of it. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, released a statement broadcast by state television after the game, congratulating Iran’s players.
“Tonight again the strong and arrogant opponents felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands,” he said.