Christian Pulisic’s first-half goal was all that separated the two teams as the USMNT reached the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.
The pressure was certainly on Gregg Berhalter’s side in Qatar after the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the United States got the job done with three serious group performances.
It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, especially in the knockout stages against Iran, but progressing through the group stage was the minimum expectation for this exciting young team.
There will be some concerns in the Round of 16, however, after Pulisic picked up an abdominal injury while scoring the winner.
The USMNT will be hoping their star man, dubbed ‘Captain America’ by some, will be fit for the round of 16 against the Netherlands on Saturday after news broke that Pulisic had been sent to hospital for a CT scan.
It was the only third meeting between the two nations and their first meeting in the World Cup since France 1998 – a politically charged game which saw Iran emerge 2-1 winners.
It was the first time Iran and the United States, sometimes officially described in Iran as the “Great Satan”, met on a soccer field and the biggest sporting occasion between the countries since the 1979 revolution.
The preparation for this match in Qatar has been equally tense, with Iran even calling for the expulsion of the USMNT from the World Cup after the American Football Federation displayed an Iranian flag without the emblem of the Republic. Islamic on its social media platforms to show support for protesters in Iran.
USMNT Berhalter Manager and Captain Tyler Adams also faced tough questions from Iranian journalists during a heated press conference, pushing back against accusations of hypocrisy and disrespect.
The furor surrounding this game only added to the drama of a game that – even in a vacuum away from off-field 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 out of the group.
There weren’t too many signs of early nervousness from the USMNT as Berhalter’s side dictated play in the early stages – enjoying 65% of possession – although it was not until the 28th minute for him to conjure the first note chance.
Josh Sargeant’s long-range effort deflected an Iranian defender and fell perfectly into the path of Timothy Weah, who may not have realized he was all alone in front of goal and rushed a headed effort Alireza Beiranvand in the Iran goal caught. with ease.
On the half hour Weah again took a brilliant position inside the box but skied his effort well over the crossbar after being set up by Sargeant.
The USMNT pressure was finally said seven minutes before halftime, taking the lead following an incisive team move.
Weston McKennie’s precise cross ball was headed in on goal by safety Sergiño Dest and bravely brought home by Pulisic, who suffered a heavy collision with Beiranvand as he returned the ball over the line.
The USMNT’s joy quickly turned to concern as it was evident that Pulisic was in severe pain after the clash, limping heavily as he was helped off the field by two medics.
Pulisic quickly returned to the pitch, but the Chelsea man was clearly still struggling with the blow.
As the USMNT grew in confidence, spaces began to open up in the Iran defense and Weah thought he had doubled his team’s lead just before the interval, finishing beautifully with the outside of his boot to be met by the linesman’s flag for the narrowest of offside calls.
Although Iran would have been happy to ride out this storm in the first half, it was a surprisingly subdued performance – especially after Pulisic’s goal – from a side that had caused defensive problems for England and the Country. of Wales in their first two matches.
Iran started the second half with more authority, creating two brilliant chances for Saman Ghoddos, but the Brentford striker was unable to disturb USMNT keeper Matt Turner.
As time ticked away, Iran had a magnificent chance to level the score, but Morteza Pouraliganji’s bowed header narrowly went past the far post much to the relief of the American fans in the stands, many of whom had their heads between hands.
The Iranian players demanded a penalty at the end of nine minutes of added time, with Mehdi Taremi insisting Cameron Carter-Vickers brought down the Porto striker as he tried to get on the end of a cross .
After a brief and tense check, VAR decided it was not a penalty and shortly after, referee Mateu Lahoz blew the whistle to end the game.
Both teams fell apart – for very different reasons – but the USMNT will know that improved performance is needed if they are to have any chance of advancing further in Qatar.
After the defeat, an emotional Saeid Ezatolahi asked the Iranian fans for forgiveness.
Iran were in a strong position heading into the final game after that crucial 2-0 win over Wales, needing only a draw to progress, but put up a disappointing performance with a place in the knockout stages finals in play.
“I’m really sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we couldn’t have the opportunity to qualify for the next round,” the midfielder said.
“Life and football go on and it can be a good lesson for us, at least for young players like me for the future. So I hope our fans and our people in Iran will forgive us and I’m just sorry, that’s all.
Iran coach Carlos Quieroz said “the dream is over”, but he is already looking to the future.
“The first half was American and the second half Iranian,” said Quieroz, who is Iran’s longest-serving coach, having led the team from 2011 to 2019 before returning for a second term in September.
“The difference [was] we didn’t score in the second half as we should have. But, the dream is over. Now he is thinking about the next step for Iran,” added Quieroz, who is the only coach to have led the team to back-to-back World Cups.