DOHA: US coach Gregg Berhalter said his team belonged in the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday after defeating Iran 1-0 to set up a second round showdown with the Netherlands.
Five years after the Americans suffered the shock of failing to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia, Berhalter has led a youthful US team into knockout rounds of the tournament.
Draws against Wales and England were followed by Tuesday’s nailbiting 1-0 win over arch-rivals Iran to seal qualification.
But while Sunday’s last 16 clash with the Netherlands promises to be a step up in class, Berhalter said his team would have no trace of an inferiority complex.
“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.
“We deserve to be in the position we’re in. And we want to keep going. We don’t want to be going home next Wednesday.
“So for us it’s how we recover from this game, and how to play a very good Dutch team. We have to come up with an idea of how to beat them.”
Asked how far the US could go in Qatar, Berhalter replied: “Coming into the tournament we had two goals, the first was to advance through the group stage.
“And from here anything can happen. All we need to do is play one game at a time. There’s no need to even project how far this team can go.”
The former US international defender expressed particular satisfaction that his team held the line despite a second half onslaught by Iran.
The Americans finished the group phase with only one goal conceded — a penalty against Wales — and back-to-back clean sheets.
“That’s the first time in 92 years that we’ve got two shutouts at a World Cup so the boys are doing something right,” Berhalter said.
“The end of the game is really what I’m most proud of because it was the mark of determination, an extreme amount of effort and a lot of resiliency to hang in there and get the win and not buckle.”
The win avenged America’s defeat to Iran at the 1998 World Cup.
Berhalter spoke before the game about his dismay at that loss, complaining that Iran’s team had been more motivated 24 years ago.
“I talked yesterday in the press conference about the 1998 game and the guys not having the appropriate intensity to compete against Iran — and today we had it,” Berhalter said. “It was clear from the opening whistle.”
Berhalter added that Tuesday’s result was the sort of performance that would make US sports fans take the team to its heart.
“We’ve talked about defining this group, and it starts to take shape based on these performances,” he said.
“You see how resilient this group is, you see how unified this group is, and what type of energy they put into every single game.
“And along the way there’s some pretty good soccer. That’s the American spirit the way this group plays.”