IR Iran v USA: Group B - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
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T-minus two days until the butterflies in the stomach return as the U.S. men's national team face Netherlands for a spot in the quarterfinals. I'm Igor Mello, filling in for Mike Goodman, and let's get right to it on the Golazo Starting XI newsletter.

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Thursday's slate:

  • Croatia vs. Belgium, 10 a.m. ET
  • Canada vs. Morocco, 10 a.m. ET
  • Japan vs. Spain, 2 p.m. ET
  • Costa Rica vs. Germany, 2 p.m. ET

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⚽  The Forward Line

USMNT solved their No. 9 problems

In Soccer We Trust YouTube

The United States struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, with only two goals to their name in their first World Cup appearance since 2014. Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi are at home watching these games, probably wishing they were there leaving their mark. But they are not in Qatar and you have to make do with what you have. U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter has been tweaking the lineup here and there, with Haji Wright, who was a surprise addition to the 26-man roster when it was announced a few weeks ago, getting the start in the second group-stage game against England. Outside of that, we have yet to see Jesus Ferreira and the man at the No. 9 position has been Josh Sargent.

Sargent has been excellent at the hold-up play, which, the start of his sequence led to the Timothy Weah goal scored against Wales in the opener. He's also been rock solid at winning battles, particularly headers, and pressing. He did the dirty work against Iran which kept that defensive unit honest and it's probably no coincidence that the Americans have scored their lone two goals while he's been on the field.

That's why ex-USMNT forward Charlie Davies, who represents one-third of the In Soccer We Trust podcast team, believes the problems at the No. 9 position have been solved by the Norwich City man.

"Josh Sargent was a beast," Davies said after the 1-0 win over Iran. "Josh Sargent's hold-up play, his involvement, the runs on both sides of the ball, defending, and checking back. Josh Sargent brought his A-game ... And I don't know if I would've picked him to play [against Iran] but after [this performance], he's the nine. He didn't get a great opportunity to score, but in terms of his involvement and what he brought to the table with his unselfishness in the final third."

The ISWT crew is doing a great job breaking down the U.S. team in Qatar -- make sure you give them a follow and listen to their shows live throughout the World Cup as we gear up for the big Netherlands game.

🔗  Midfield Link Play

Did you know ...

There have been 97 goals scored and 68 assists thus far with two days left of group stage play before we trim out the fat and get to the nitty gritty of this competition. Players from the English Premier League lead the way with 21 goals and 16 assists, but can you guess which EPL club has racked up the most goals? I'll give you a hint: It's not a team from London.

Manchester United!

Thanks to Marcus Rashford (3), Bruno Fernandes (2) and Casemiro (1), the Red Devils lead the way with six goals scored in Qatar, followed by Manchester City (4), Chelsea (3), and three teams – Arsenal, Tottenham and Brighton -- at two.

Let's get to some links:

💰  The Back Lines

Best bets

Let's pick some games! All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Japan vs. Spain, Thursday, 2 p.m. ET 
    💰 THE PICK: Draw in first half (+115). Look, we all know Spain are favored in this one, but the juice is not worth the squeeze to pick them to win at -225. So why not bet on a scoreless first half, which we have seen a ton of in Qatar? 
  • Costa Rica vs. Germany, Thursday, 2 p.m. ET 
    💰 THE PICK: Anytime goalscorer Ilkay Gundogan (+150). He's the penalty-kick taker in a game where the Germans are comfortably favored to win at -950. It's Costa Rica. It's Germany in need of a win (and maybe win big) to feel safe about their prospects of reaching the round of 16. Book it!