Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Analysis Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with the Premier league trophy as the champions staged an incredible comeback from two goals down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
  • Pep Guardiola’s team called on all their reserves of brilliance and resilience against Aston Villa to score three goals in five minutes and claim a fourth league title in five years

When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.

Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.

While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.

Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.

With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.

“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.

“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”

Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.

With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.

Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.

City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.

City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.

“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”

“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”

Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”

In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”

It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.

While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.

The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.

There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.

When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.

“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.

It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.

Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.

“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.

“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”

The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.

And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.

Excited already?


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.”