The USMNT’s best World Cup finish in the modern era was in 2002, controversially missing out on a semifinal spot. In the Munsu Stadium in South Korea, USMNT faced a strong German side, though once play got underway the result was far from a foregone conclusion.
Does the 2022 squad under head coach Gregg Berhalter have what it takes to go further?
USA Group Qualifying Matches – Group B
The USMNT World Cup draw put the USA in Group B, alongside England and Iran initially, while we had to wait to see who would take the last spot. The Ukraine beat Scotland for the right to play Wales, with the winner taking the final slot in Qatar.
Gareth Bale’s 34th minute goal in Cardiff dashed the troubled nation’s dreams.
No surprise that FIFA world-ranked #5 England are favoured to top Group B, lead by their talismanic skipper Harry Kane – winner of the Golden Boot in Russia and favorite again in Qatar.
Iran (#23) are firm underdogs. It’s certainly not a given that England will win all three of their Group B qualifying matches, although Three Lions fans will expect it.
Similarly, as excited as Iran are to be playing on the big stage, it’s fair to say that even their most ardent supporters can’t expect them to move on.
Wales and Bale
Which leaves the #14 USA and #19 Wales to battle it out for the second qualifying spot to the knockout stages – though this game seems too close to call with any real comfort.
What’s more, it is the opening match for both teams’ campaigns, so expect some jangly nerves. There’s every chance that the team that settles first, or controls themselves best on the biggest of stages may come away with the points.
USMNT Schedule World Cup Qatar
- Monday 21 November: USA vs Wales, Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. 22.00 local time.
- Friday 25 November: England vs USA, Al Bayt Stadium. 22.00 local time.
- Tuesday 29 November: Iran vs USA, Al Thumama Stadium. 22.00 local time.
However, the USMNT defence will have their work cut out for them, having Gareth Bale to contend with.
The former Real Madrid maestro moved to Los Angeles this summer and opened his LAFC account with a clinical finish against Sporting KC.
While his best years are undoubtedly behind him, he has already shown in the MLS that his pedigree remains – as does his danger in front of goal and the threat he poses anywhere on the pitch if given space.
As Real Salt Lake just found out at their expense.
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Who Do USMNT Play Next?
The way the tournament is structured, gives the advantage, deservedly, to the team that qualifies top of their group by pitting them against the team that qualifies second in a corresponding group.
Hence, the team that tops Group B plays the team that finishes second in Group A. Likewise, the team that tops Group A meets the team that finishes second in Group B.
Group A is made up of the host nation, Qatar, alongside the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador. Looking at these teams, it isn’t much of a stretch to see #8 the Netherlands and #18 Senegal advancing.
Although favored going into their clash, a Dutch win over the Lions of Teranga is not assured as the current African Cup of Nations champions will have all to play for and little to lose.
So, assuming USMNT qualify second they will face either Senegal, or, more likely, the Netherlands. Either one won’t be an easy ask, but the beauty of sport – as we all know – is that anything can happen on any given day.
As the USMNT found to their disadvantage 20 years ago in Korea, in the 2002 tournament.
USMNT’s Best World Cup – 2002 Quarterfinal
Germany 1-0 USA
The USMNT’s best World Cup performance to date in the modern era was in South Korea in 2002. Who knows how the match would have ended has things gone differently, but the Americans had every right to feel aggrieved when, at 1-0 down, a handball on the line by Torsten Frings was missed by the English assistant referee.
The Road to the Match
The US qualified for the knockout stages by finishing second in Group D, and entered this match coming off the back of a huge 2-0 win over Mexico (who had topped Group G) in the Round of 16.
Germany qualified on top of Group E, and then dispatched Uruguay 1-0 in the first knockout round.
A Stronger Start
In the first half the US actually had the run of play, but were enduring one of those days where they just couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net.
That said, Oliver Kahn, the German captain and goalkeeper was one of the best the sport has even seen – and he was playing on form.
Two good first-half chances fell to striker Landon Donovan, but both times Kahn was up to the challenge. The first saw Donovan cut into the area from the right, taking the ball on to his weaker left foot, before firing low towards the far post – forcing a great diving fingertip save. The second saw Kahn rush out to the edge of the six-yard box in a text-book shutting down of the player and angles to deny him.
A third chance was left wanting after Eddie Lewis played it wide from midfield out to Brian McBride on the left, whose cross Donovan failed to control. The ball fell nicely back to Lewis at the top of the area, and his powerful first-time strike forced another impressive save from Kahn.
A Controversial Loss
A minute later, up the other end, midfielder Michael Ballack – another German legend of the game – climbed above the defence to get on the end of a free kick. He headed home passed Brad Friedel to give Germany a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute. Three minutes later, Miroslav Klose almost made it 2-0, but his driving header hit the right upright.
The second half was only five minutes old when this happened.
Neither side scored again that night, although Tony Sanneh almost equalized with a screaming header at the far post which he directed just wide.
Germany went on to beat the host nation South Korea in the semifinal 1-0, before losing 2-0 in the final to Brazil.
Another USMNT World Cup Quarterfinal?
Can USMNT make it to the quarterfinals in Qatar?
While the Round of 16 challenge looks daunting enough with the Netherlands in their way, the Dutch have underperformed on the largest stages in recent years. However, that means they arrive in Qatar with a point to prove. Senegal too will be looking to build on their top-tier regional status.
Still, should USMNT overcome either team who would they likely meet next?
Assuming they qualify second behind England in Group B, their Round of 16 match is number 49. The winner of match 49 then plays the winner of match 50, which would be between the team that tops Group C and the team that finishes second in Group D.
Group C consists of Argentina, Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia. Group D is France, Australia, Denmark and Tunisia.
Argentina are favorites to top Group C, and expect some great football in the matches against Mexico and Poland.
Read our previews for both Argentina vs Poland – as Messi goes up against Robert Lewandowski – and Argentina vs Mexico.
France are favorites in Group D, with Denmark likely to finish second quite comfortably, with Australia and Tunisia as outliers.
If Argentina progress as expected and best Denmark to reach the quarters, much as a fairytale run it would be for USMNT to beat either the Netherlands or Senegal, Argentina does feel one hurdle that perhaps is just a little too high.
How to watch the USMNT World Cup
In the US, on Fox Sports/FS1 in English and on Telemundo for Spanish coverage.
Fox Sports holds English-language rights, and will air all 64 matches live across the Fox and FS1 channels. All games will also stream live on the Fox Sports app.
NBCUniversal’s Telemundo holds Spanish-language rights in the US.
In the UK, on the BBC or on ITV.
In the UK, the BBC and ITV share coverage rights, between them showing all matches. Here is the whole schedule for both channels – who is showing what, when.