Christian Pulisic’s first-half goal was all that separated the sides as the USMNT reached the Round of 16 for the first time since 2014.
The pressure was certainly on Greg Berhalter’s Qatar team after the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the United States got the job done with three brave team performances.
It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, particularly in the closing stages against Iran, but progression in the group stage was the bare minimum for this exciting young side.
There will be some concerns entering the knockout stages, though, after Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury while scoring the winning goal.
The USMNT is hoping its superstar, dubbed “Captain America” by some, will be fit for the last 16 against the Netherlands on Saturday after news that Pulisic was sent to the hospital for a scan.
It was the only meeting ever between the two nations and their first meeting in a World Cup since France 1998 – a politically charged match that saw Iran emerge as surprise 2-1 winners.
It was the first time that Iran and the United States, sometimes described officially in Iran as the “Great Satan”, met on the soccer field and the biggest sporting event between the two countries since the 1979 revolution.
Preparation for this game in Qatar has been similarly tense, with Iran even calling for the USMNT to be kicked out of the World Cup after the US Soccer Federation posted an Iranian flag without the Islamic Republic’s crest on its social media platforms. Show support for the protesters in Iran.
USMNT Director Berhalter and Captain Tyler Adams He also faced some tough questions from Iranian journalists in a fiery news conference, to fend off accusations of hypocrisy and disrespect.
The hype surrounding this game only added to the drama of a encounter that – even in a vacuum away from off-court issues – was guaranteed to be fraught with tension.
Both teams knew a win would secure a spot in the Round of 16, but for the USMNT, even a draw wouldn’t be enough to see them advance from the group.
There wasn’t much sign of early nerve from the USMNT as Berhalter dictated the play in the opening stages – enjoying 65% possession – although it took until the 28th minute to conjure up the first opportunity of note.
Josh Sargeant’s long-range effort deflected an Iranian defender and fell perfectly into the path of Timothy Weah, who perhaps didn’t realize he was alone in front of goal and charged in with a header that Alireza Beiranvand successfully slotted past Iran. Easily.
On the half-hour mark, Weah again took up a fine position inside the penalty area but edged his effort well over the bar after being sent in by the sergeant.
The USMNT pressure eventually said seven minutes before halftime, taking the lead after the team’s crucial move.
Weston McKinney’s cross was headed across goal by striker Sergino Dest and gamely volleyed in by Pulisic, who had a huge collision with Beranvand when he deflected the ball over the line.
The USMNT’s joy quickly turned to anxiety as Pulisic was clearly in great pain after the clash, limping badly as two paramedics helped him off the field.
Pulisic was soon back on the pitch, but it was clear that the Chelsea man was still suffering from the blow.
As the USMNT grew in confidence, spaces began to open up in Iran’s defense and Weah thought he had doubled his team’s lead just before the break, finishing nicely with the outside of his boot only to be met by the linesman’s flag in the narrowest range. Offside decisions.
Although Iran would have happily weathered a first-half storm, they were surprisingly underpowered – particularly after Pulisic’s goal – from a side that caused defensive problems for both England and Wales in their opening two matches.
Iran started the second half with more power, creating two great chances for Saman Quddous but the Brentford striker was unable to trouble NAFC goalkeeper Matt Turner.
As the clock ticked down, Iran had a fantastic chance to tie the scores, but Morteza Bouraliganji’s swooping header was beamed just off the far post much to the relief of the American fans in the stands, many of whom had their heads in their hands.
There were loud calls for a penalty from the Iranian players late in the nineteenth minute of extra time, with Mehdi Tarimi insisting that Cameron Carter-Vickers had brought the Porto forward down as he tried to get a cross from the end.
After a short, tense check, VAR decided it was not a penalty and shortly after, referee Mathieu Lahoz blew his whistle to end the match.
Both teams sank to the ground – for very different reasons – but the USMNT will know an improved performance is essential if they are to have a chance to advance further in Qatar.
After the defeat, an emotional Saeed Ezzatollah asked the Iranian fans for forgiveness.
Iran were in a strong position heading into the final after the decisive 2-0 win over Wales, needing only a draw to progress, but put in a disappointing performance with a place in the knockout stages on the line.
“I’m really sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we couldn’t get our chance to qualify for the next round,” the midfielder said.
“Life and football goes on and that can be a good lesson for us, at least for young players like me in the future. So I hope our fans and people in Iran forgive me and I just feel sorry, that’s all.”
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the “dream is over” but he is already looking forward to the future.
“The first half was the United States and the second half was Iran,” said Queiroz, Iran’s longest-serving coach, having managed the team from 2011 to 2019, before returning for a second stint in September.
“the difference [was] We didn’t score in the second half as we should have. But the dream is over. “Now, she’s thinking about the next step for Iran,” added Queiroz, who is the only coach to have led the team to back-to-back World Cup finals.
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