Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, especially Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi and his club Bristol Rovers as they celebrated their automatic promotion to League One on Saturday. (Twitter)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
  • It’s been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, but few stories can compare to Bristol Rovers’ automatic promotion to League One
  • May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line

DUBAI: Time was running out and a fifth, sixth, and seventh goal were needed.
They would, astonishingly, arrive, because that’s what football miracles are made of.
But we’re jumping ahead.
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs.
Manchester City are on the brink of retaining their Premier League title. Newcastle United have pulled off a record-breaking escape from relegation and are looking toward a bright future. And Wigan have gained promotion to the Championship.
But for sheer drama, none of these stories can quite compete with that of Bristol Rovers, owned by Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi.
At one point, the club was second to bottom in League Two, 91st out of 92 clubs in the pyramid of English football. To say promotion to League One was against the odds would barely scratch the surface of the events of the season.
“It was one of the most crazy, demanding seasons, really tiring because we went through it all, the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” said Al-Qadi. “In a normal season, I’m here 50 percent of the time, I attend 50 percent of the games, but this season, because of what was going on, the upheaval in the club, going from rock bottom, I was here a lot more. And as a result, negativity and stress and lots of problems arose from within the club, and around the club there was pressure on me to get rid of the manager (Joey Barton). It was basically a revolt from within the club to make change.”
Some difficult decisions had to be taken, ones that have been vindicated spectacularly.
“I stuck with him and as a result, I cleaned house in the club, everybody was just pushed out and I appointed the new CEO (Tom Gorringe) who was with us as a commercial director, he became the youngest CEO in English football. Sweeping changes all across the club in all the departments brought in new, young, energized people.
“The combination of Tom, Joe, and me we rode out the storm, and results started to happen,” he added. “It went from a total negative dark place to be, to a ride of success which was fantastic. The quality of football being played, the goals, fairytale gains, being 3-1 down with 18 minutes left to win 4-3 in the 95th minute, stuff like that. It’s just incredible.
“And then the final game of the season, ‘the miracle’ I call it, a footballing miracle, to witness that was just unbelievable. And then what happened after the celebrations. The whole city, for not only that night, for days and weeks, they’re still talking about and it will go down in the folklore of the club as one of the greatest achievements ever.”
May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line. But they trail Northampton Town, second in League Two and playing at Barrow, on goal difference.
“Going into the game, it (automatic promotion) was unlikely, we had to first of all win by five goals just to catch up and hope at the same time, if we didn’t do that hope we win and Northampton draws or loses,” said Al-Qadi.
“So I asked the manager, ‘Are we going for it? And he was like, hell yes. So I knew we were gonna attack and go for goal difference because we’re not relying on the other teams to do us favors. So the lineup was totally attacking, we put in wing-backs who are wingers actually, we changed the line up to basically nine attackers and just two defenders and I knew we were gonna go for it.”
What happened next defied all footballing logic.
“So we started off well but then the news filtered in, 1-0 Northampton, then 2-0 Northampton, then 3-0 Northampton, so you’re kind of deflated, and you start thinking, okay, at least we’re in the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. And then we scored a goal, and we scored another goal. And Barrow scored the goal. That’s three goals wiped off the deficit of eight.
“So at halftime, there were five to go, and honestly I thought that it was doable because I know we were going to go all-out attack. I know that we’re one of the fittest teams in the league, I know that a lot of our goals are scored in the last 15 minutes, so it was just me expecting the next goal to go in
“And then after that went in, I was like, okay, when’s the fourth going in? And then, okay, when’s the fifth going in? Then the sixth goal (on 79 minutes). And then when the seventh goal went in (85), I lost it completely. It was, it was just incredible.”
Having pulled off the impossible, there was a brief, but terrifying, concern that it could all be in vain when the fans invaded the pitch before its conclusion, with the referee taking the players into the dressing rooms for 15 minutes.
“We were under the whim of this referee,” Al-Qadi said. “His decision could cost us, basically, promotion. So I went down on the pitch and addressed the crowd, ‘Please do not come onto the pitch’, because this referee could abandon the game again.”
After Barton addressed the crowd as well, the match was completed and the celebrations could start all over again.
Al-Qadi’s faith in his players to pull off the result was not based on blind optimism either. Increasingly throughout the season, the team had shown a capacity to score very late, decisive goals, a legacy of their improved fitness.
“When Joe came in, he realized that we were way behind in standards in fitness and sports science and nutrition,” he said. “So he did a complete overhaul in that department and he brought in people who he knows and trusts and who he’d worked with before. For example, we got in Tom Short, ‘Shorty,’ from Premier League Burnley. He had treated Joe when he was a player at Burnley and got him fit again, so he knows his capabilities.”
Al-Qadi calls Short and all the backroom staff “unsung heroes” for their part in the promotion.
“Joe built a super fit team that lasts beyond the 90 minutes, you could see it throughout the season, where other teams drop off around the 75th minute, and we keep on going. We’re fitter, we’re stronger, and the results speak for themselves.”
A week before the promotion was secured, Bristol Rovers had pulled off another miracle away at Rochdale. Losing 3-2 into stoppage time, Barton’s team somehow managed to turn almost defeat into a 4-3 win, a match Al-Qadi watched with the traveling support.
“It’s just crazy, I wanted to get on the pitch,” said Al-Qadi. “What a day. We had to win to keep up with everyone at one stage, we win, we are losing, we were out of the playoffs. Imagine we were losing 3-1 with 18 minutes left, we were out of the playoffs. Even going to the 90th minute, we’re losing 3-2, two out, and then all of a sudden we’re in and then the next week, we get promoted. It’s crazy.”
Rovers took more than 2,000 fans to Rochdale and Al-Qadi’s presence in the stands was proof that six years after taking over the club he is as much a fan as he is an owner.
“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “You have to because there’s so much stress and anger and you know, falling out with people and people don’t see that, it’s not just about watching a football game and enjoying it. So I guess it’s like a balance with all the joy you get. It balances out all the other negative stuff that you have to deal with, and we have dealt with, and how the season was crazy.”
With no stress of a playoff to worry about, the Bristol Rovers fans have been wallowing in the joy of “the miracle” and the chairman is enjoying the ride even as, behind the scenes, preparations for League One are already taking place.
“You should see the fans. I mean, my God stories of lost ones, dear ones, that they bring their pictures of the dear ones to the game. And after promotion, they just put that picture up and take a memory picture for them. It’s done for them. It’s so many stories, you know, it’s just unbelievable. I met a guy who flew in from Australia just for this game. And I was so relieved for him, because imagine if we didn’t make it.
“And another guy from Canada,” he added. “I was picking up my son at the airport in the morning. He came in from the US, and I was stopped by the flight steward who recognized me, (he) came up and said, ‘I just flew in from Ireland. I’m gonna go get changed and go to the game.’ It’s just beautiful stories.
“They’re over the moon, they’re just really happy,” Al-Qadi said. “They’re loving the football we’re playing at the moment. They say it’s the best football they’ve ever seen. It’s really satisfactory to hear that.”


Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia
Cameroon's forward Vincent Aboubakar scores his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match. AFP
Updated 28 November 2022

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia

Cameroon fight back to draw World Cup thriller with Serbia
  • Jean-Charles Castelletto scored first for Cameroon but Serbia led 3-1 after goals from Strahinja Pavlovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic

DOHA: Cameroon kept their hopes of making the last 16 of the World Cup alive on Monday after fighting back from two goals down to draw a thrilling Group G encounter with Serbia 3-3.
Rigobert Song’s team looked almost dead and buried after goals from Strahinja Pavlovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Serbia a 3-1 lead early in the second half.
But substitute Vincent Aboubakar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting snatched a draw with two quick-fire strikes just after the hour mark to leave both Cameroon and Serbia on a single point, two behind group leaders Brazil and Switzerland.
Had they lost, Cameroon would have been relying on the Swiss beating Brazil in order to not be eliminated with a game to spare, but instead the west Africans still have a chance of getting out of the group stage for the first time since 1990.
Cameroon have a tough task ahead as they play Brazil in their final match, which according to reports they will play without first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana who was dropped from the matchday squad just hours before kick-off following an unspecified disciplinary issue.
Media reports suggest that Onana has been sent home from the World Cup after a disagreement with Song, but that pre-match turmoil didn’t stop Cameroon putting in a fighting display against a Serbia team who probably deserved to win on the balance of play.
Mitrovic was almost invisible in Serbia’s defeat to Brazil but here he was involved from kick-off, the Fulham forward unlucky not to give Serbia the lead in the 11th minute when he crashed a shot off the post from a tight angle following a neat exchange of passes with Dusan Tadic.
- Cameroon comeback -
But Mitrovic only had himself to blame for not opening the scoring six minutes later, shanking an awful first-time finish wide when, after a mix up in the Cameroon defense, the ball dropped at his feet with only Onana’s replacement Devis Epassy to beat.
And Castelletto punished the Serbs for Mitrovic’s miss in the 29th minute with the simplest of finishes after ghosting in at the back post to meet Nicolas Nkoulou’s flick-on at a corner.
Pierre Kunde then passed up a golden opportunity to double Cameroon’s lead in the 43rd minute when he first shot straight at goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic and then smashed the rebound wide.
It was Cameroon’s turn to be undone at a set-piece as the half crept into first-half stoppage time when Pavlovic brilliantly headed home Dusan Tadic’s floated free-kick.
The Serbs’ tails were up and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic flipped the match on its head two minutes later with a superb left-footed finish after Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa sloppily gave the ball away just outside his own penalty area.
Mitrovic finally had the goal his strong display deserved seven minutes after the break, tapping in Andrija Zivkovic’s pass unopposed at the end of beautiful move guided by Milinkovic-Savic and Tadic.
The match looked over but from nowhere Cameroon sprung back into life thanks to Aboubakar’s odd goal.
The Al Nassr forward raced through onto Castelletto’s launched pass over the top and scooped an improbable finish over the Serbia ‘keeper, beaming with delight after his goal was awarded following a VAR check.
Aboubakar’s pace caused Serbia all kinds of problems and he laid on Choupo-Moting’s leveller, bursting down the right and laying on a simple finish for the Bayern Munich forward which sparked wild celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.
Neither side could find a winner in an end-to-end finish to the game and their bids to make the knockouts will go down to the final game.


Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
Updated 28 November 2022

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
  • If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal
  • Van Gaal stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team

DOHA: The Netherlands is on the verge of reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup and an overwhelming favorite in its final Group A match on Tuesday against host nation Qatar.
If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal, who stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team while being treated for aggressive prostate cancer.
Host nation Qatar has lost its first two matches and already missed its chance to move on from the group stage.
For the Netherlands a draw will suffice to advance and put the Netherlands into contention again in a World Cup after failing to qualify four years ago. The Dutch could even get through with a loss if Ecuador beats Senegal in the other Group A match.
In the round of 16, the Netherlands would face one of the top two teams from Group B, where England is the favorite with Iran, Wales, and the United States scrambling for a spot.
Van Gaal said before the World Cup that the Netherlands can win it all, although few see this as one of the country’s best teams.
No powerful soccer nation has come up short at the World Cup as often as the Dutch, who have been the runners-up three times: in 1974 against West Germany, in 1978 facing Argentina, and in 2010 vs. Spain.
The Dutch also finished third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after losing a shootout against Argentina in the semifinals.
After being out of the game for several years, Van Gaal came out of retirement and replaced Frank de Boer in August of 2021. He said he did it out of duty.
“Because, simply, no one else was available at that time,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal’s matter-of-fact courage has to be a motivator for the Dutch. But he might also stir up Qatar.
Earlier this year the outspoken Van Gaal said it was “ridiculous” holding the World Cup in Qatar, a tiny country of 3 million. Qatar’s vast wealth is fueled by natural gas and oil.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re going to play in a country to — what does FIFA say? — — to develop football there,” Van Gaal said, adding that Qatar is too small and lacks a soccer culture.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s about money, commercial interests. That’s what matters to FIFA,” Van Gaal added.


Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
Updated 28 November 2022

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
  • Drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez ecstatic
  • Last race won by Klara Andersson, Nasser Al-Attiyah

URUGUAY: Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing has secured its first Extreme E title, capping a drama-filled second season of the series.

The team finished third by half a second in the Uruguay Natural Energy X Prix to secure the championship in a final that went right down to the wire, with ABT CUPRA XE securing a maiden X Prix victory.

Hamilton’s outfit entered a final that was missing three of the top four teams in the championship standings, including leaders RXR. As their closest rivals watched on from the paddock, Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez secured the podium finish needed to take their maiden Extreme E title, just two points clear of RXR in the standings, having bagged a crucial five points from the Continental Traction Challenge in Qualifying 2.

Gutierrez was ecstatic. “I still can’t believe it. It was a very tough weekend for us, especially after my roll yesterday. The team did a crazy job with the (spare) car and Qualifying 2 was the first time we had driven it.

“As for the final, on the radio they told me someone was going to be penalized but still I didn’t know. I wanted to be sure that we won so I did not celebrate before it was official. It was a rollercoaster, but it is much better than that for us as we can now believe in what we have achieved.”

Loeb was equally happy. “We could only go and compete with everything we had and try to score maximum points. In the final, it was a critical moment because I was fourth and we needed to be third. We had some contact here and there, but there was nothing I could do to overtake. Cristina did a great job to stay very close to the car in front and we knew potentially we were third. At the end it was what we needed so I’m really relieved to be here and really proud to win this championship.”

Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, added: “I think the season finale was an amazing rollercoaster. Everything was open. There was an incredible comeback from X44 Vida Carbon Racing and bad luck for Rosberg X Racing, who have done some incredible things this season. Once again the championship decider was close, with the season going down to the wire, so we’re ready for a fantastic campaign next year.”

The stakes were high, and from the outset it was clear that it would be no easy task for X44 Vida Carbon Racing. ABT CUPRA XE’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Veloce Racing’s Kevin Hansen surrounded Loeb as the trio approached the opening sequence of corners. A fantastic move from Loeb seemed to have taken the lead for the Frenchman, as he carried his speed through a wider line, until Al-Attiyah surged up the inside to steal first.

With the title on the line, Loeb kept the ABT CUPRA XE within reach, but as the leading teams tussled for supremacy, NEOM McLaren Extreme E’s Tanner Foust timed his attack perfectly, charging through to take second away from X44 Vida Carbon Racing.

Championship glory slipped further away from the challengers as Timmy Hansen managed to get past the recovering Loeb to secure third for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. A masterclass in defending followed, with Hansen keeping Loeb at bay as the teams approached the Switch Zone, where Gutierrez would pick up the fight with Catie Munnings.

A five-second penalty for Veloce Racing, from Hansen hitting a waypoint flag on his stint, took the pressure off X44 Vida Carbon Racing from behind, but the heat was on to overtake Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. Gutierrez threw her ODYSSEY 21 into every corner but was struggling to gain enough ground on Munnings up ahead. In addition, the Spaniard was under investigation for a collision with Veloce Racing’s Molly Taylor, for which she would later receive a five-second penalty.

Just as time seemed to be running out for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, a seven-second penalty came through for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E for speeding in the Switch Zone. This was the lifeline that Gutierrez needed as she fought to stay close enough to the Genesys Andretti United Extreme E ODYSSEY 21. The Spaniard crossed the line in fourth but within two seconds of Munnings, thus securing third place and the championship title for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, just two points clear of RXR.

Further up the field, a measured drive from Klara Andersson kept Emma Gilmour in her mirrors as the NEOM McLaren Extreme E driver chased a maiden podium for the team. Gilmour secured second, while Andersson and Al-Attiyah’s performances earned ABT CUPRA XE their first X Prix win and back-to-back podiums during the pair’s first Extreme E campaign.

Behind the tussling Gutierrez and Munnings was Veloce Racing. Fifth place marked an impressive turnaround for the team and an amazing comeback from Taylor as she returns to the Extreme E championship and competitive ways.

Andersson from ABT CUPRA XE said: “Wow. There are just so many emotions in me right now to be honest. I’ve been waiting for this for so long. It’s only my second Extreme E race, and my first proper Extreme E race weekend, so to be on top of the podium is huge. I couldn’t have done it without Nasser and the whole team.”

Al-Attiyah also had praise for his teammate: “Thank you to the team and thank you to Klara. We had an amazing weekend and we are happy to win the last race. Now we have a lot of confidence to come back next year and fight for the title.”

Tanner Foust, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, said: “There was mayhem at the start, which is weirdly what you hope for when you’re last. I ended up coming out in second I think, and I had Timmy (Hansen) behind me and I got almost rolled. It was a push to stay in second place on the first lap and then Emma (Gilmour) came through. She was awesome.”

Gilmour said: “It’s just fantastic. The team has worked so hard all year. We’ve had a few setbacks along the way so this is for the team, we couldn’t do it without them. I’ve got a fantastic teammate in Tanner and I’m just so happy to finish on this high note for the season.”

Results

ABT CUPRA XE 10 minutes, 26.537 seconds

NEOM McLaren Extreme E +3.427

X44 Vida Carbon Racing +10.467 (penalized)

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E +11.029 (penalized)

Veloce Racing +15.094 (penalized)

Championship Points Standings

X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 86

Rosberg X Racing: 84

ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 66

No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 63

NEOM McLaren Extreme E: 52

ABT CUPRA XE: 46

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E: 45

XITE ENERGY Racing: 33

JBXE: 27

Veloce Racing: 18


Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise
Updated 28 November 2022

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

LOS ANGELES: Stephen Curry scored 25 points and the Golden State Warriors parlayed a hot start into a comfortable 137-114 NBA win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

Curry added 11 rebounds and eight assists while Draymond Green posted his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 assists as the reigning NBA champions put together three straight victories for the first time this season.

It was just their second away victory of the campaign and moved them to 11-10, the first time in a month they have been above .500.

The Warriors, seemingly determined to turn around their dismal fortunes on the road, exploded out of the gate, engineering a 17-0 scoring run on the way to 47 first-quarter points and a 20-point lead after the first period.

They were up by 20 going into the fourth although the Timberwolves, led by 26 points from Anthony Edwards with 21 from Karl-Anthony Towns, cut that by half with 5:31 remaining.

Golden State responded, with Curry draining a three-pointer before Klay Thompson delivered a trey, a steal and another three-pointer to push the lead back to 19.

Six Warriors players finished in double figures, Thompson posting 21 and Jordan Poole adding 24 off the bench.

“I think what really propelled us that first half, especially defensively, is not fouling,” Thompson said. “As simple as it sounds, it has us playing at such a higher level.

“Our defense obviously fuels our offense, getting out in transition, hitting the open man. And it’s crazy how when we play simple basketball, it’s a thing of beauty.”

The Warriors will try to build more momentum on the road when they travel to Dallas for a Western Conference finals rematch on Tuesday.

The Mavs will be looking to rebound at home after falling 124-115 to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 11 rebounds for the Bucks and Grayson Allen, who was a perfect seven-for-seven from three-point range in the first half, added 25.

Luka Doncic scored 27 points to lead Dallas, who suffered a fourth straight defeat.

It was no surprise to see the league-leading Boston Celtics cruise to a 130-121 home victory over the Washington Wizards.

Even with MVP candidate Jayson Tatum sidelined with a sore ankle, the Celtics offense was explosive. Boston connected on 16 of 34 three-point attempts and shot 55 percent from the field overall in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated.

Jaylen Brown scored a season-high 36 points to lead seven Celtics players in double figures in the team’s 16th win of the season.

At Madison Square Garden, Memphis star Ja Morant thrived in the spotlight, with a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists powering the Grizzlies to a 127-123 victory over the New York Knicks.

Morant rebounded his own miss and made the put-back basket to put Memphis up 124-123 with 13.9 seconds remaining, and the Grizzlies — who had led by 12 early in the fourth quarter — sealed it with a string of free-throws.

Across town in Brooklyn, superstar Kevin Durant scored 31 points and Seth Curry added 29 off the bench as the Nets pulled away late for a 111-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Seth Curry hit seven of 10 from three-point range and scored the Nets’ first eight points of the final period. His three-pointer with 6:45 remaining pushed the Nets’ lead to nine points.

“We kept using the word ‘aggressive,’” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of the mindset in a game that featured 16 lead changes. “We want to be the aggressors on every possession.”

Jerami Grant led the Blazers with 29 points, stepping up again as Damian Lillard remained sidelined with a calf strain.

In Los Angeles, injured Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard watched from the bench as Croatian center Ivica Zubac scored 31 points and pulled down a career-high 29 rebounds, blocked three shots and handed out three assists before fouling out in the Clippers’ 114-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Zubac’s 29 rebounds were the most in an NBA game this season and three short of the Clippers’ franchise record of 32 — set by Swen Nater back in 1979.


Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
Updated 28 November 2022

Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
  • In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination

DOHA: Twenty-four years after their first World Cup meeting billed as the “Mother of all football matches,” Iran and the US face off in a politically-charged showdown on Tuesday with a place in the knockout rounds up for grabs.

Decades of mutual enmity between the arch geopolitical foes is the backdrop to what promises to be a white-hot sporting occasion at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium.

In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination.

But the wider significance of the Group B contest is less clear-cut.

The US and Iran have been bitter ideological enemies for more than four decades, severing diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Quite what bearing that has on a 90-minute World Cup football match involving 22 players remains to be seen.

US coach Gregg Berhalter has been at pains to dampen down suggestions that the game carries a political dimension.

“I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round — not because of politics or because of relations between our countries,” Berhalter said.

“We’re soccer players and we’re going to compete and they’re going to compete and that’s it.”

Yet Berhalter’s desire for politics to be absent from the occasion may be wishful thinking.

A rare public relations gaffe by US Soccer — posting a modified version of Iran’s national flag on the US team’s social media feeds in what it said was a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women protesters— has infuriated football authorities in Tehran.

The offending post was removed from official US Soccer feeds on Sunday after the Iran Football Federation lodged a complaint with world governing body FIFA.

The controversy almost certainly guarantees that what was already shaping as a nail-biting showdown on Tuesday is likely to carry a crackle of political tension.

That was certainly the case when Iran and the US met for the first time at the 1998 World Cup in France, the Iranians claiming a memorable 2-1 victory at the Stade Gerland in Lyon.

Political intrigue seeped into the buildup to the match with a row over the pre-game rituals.

Iran, the designated away team, refused to abide by the standard FIFA protocol of walking over to the American players for the handshake before kickoff.

That potential flashpoint was deftly defused by Swiss referee Urs Meier, who suggested that the two teams pose for a joint team photo.

Iran’s players, who presented US players with bouquets of white roses to symbolize peace, happily complied, linking arms with their American counterparts.

Iran coach Jalal Talebi and veteran defender Mohammad Khakpour would later reveal how much the Iranians had invested emotionally in the game, viewed in some quarters as a battle against representatives of the “Great Satan.”

“Just imagine being told for six months, repeatedly, that this game is the most important game in our history, which it really was,” Talebi said in a 2018 interview.

Khakpour added: “I personally was contacted by people whose family members had been martyred, those who had lost children in the Iran-Iraq war. Fathers, mothers, called and said ‘This game really does matter to us. You have to go and win this game for us.’“

The US’s coach at the 1998 World Cup, Steve Sampson, has since expressed regret that he did not use the political tensions between the two countries as a motivator.

“We were asked by FIFA, by US Soccer, by the organizing committee in France, to make it about football, and not about politics. And I went along with that,” Sampson told Time magazine.

“In hindsight, I would have made it about politics. A coach’s job is to use any and every tool available to him to prepare his team.”

Yet the American class of 2022 insist that politics won’t come into the latest instalment of the US-Iran World Cup rivalry.

“The emotional side of having to win to get to the next round is enough to be up for it,” US defender Tim Ream said on Sunday. “I don’t think we have to worry about anything else.

“What is on the line is advancing into the knockout stages. And if that’s not enough then I think we have issues.”