Iran vs. USA: USMNT advances to World Cup knockout stage with hard-fought win

Iran vs. USA: USMNT advances to World Cup knockout stage with hard-fought win


The US men’s national team (USMNT) were made to work hard for their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup, earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory Iran in the nerve-wracking decisive Group B u Qatar 2022.

Kristijan Pulisic’s first-half goal was all that separated the two sides as the USMNT reached the Round of 16 for the first time since 2014.

The pressure was certainly on Gregg Berhalter’s team in Qatar after the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the USA got the job done with three rough group performances.

It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, especially in the final against Iran, but getting through the group stage was the minimum expected for this exciting young team.

However, there will be concerns in the knockout stages after Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury while scoring the winner.

The USMNT will be hoping its star player, dubbed ‘Captain America’ by some, is fit for Saturday’s round of 16 match against the Netherlands following news that Pulisic has been sent to hospital for a scan.

It was only the third meeting between the two nations ever and their first World Cup clash since France 1998 – a politically charged game in which Iran emerged shock 2-1 winners.

It was the first time Iran and the US, sometimes officially described in Iran as ‘The Great Satan’, had met on a football pitch and the biggest sporting occasion between the countries since the 1979 revolution.

The build-up to this game in Qatar was 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 emblem on its social media platforms to show support for the protesters in Iran.

USMNT manager Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams he also faced some tough questions from Iranian journalists in a fiery press conference, rejecting accusations of hypocrisy and disrespect.

The furore surrounding this game only added to the drama of a match that – even in a vacuum away from off-field issues – was guaranteed to be full of tension.

Both teams knew that a win would ensure a place in the Round of 16, but for the USMNT, even a draw would not be enough to see them advance from the group.

The USMNT had to fight hard for their spot in the Round of 16.

There weren’t too many signs of early nerves from the USMNT as Berhalter’s side dictated play in the opening stages – enjoying 65% of possession – although it took until the 28th minute for them to conjure up their first chance of note.

Josh Sargeant’s long-range effort deflected off an Iran defender and fell perfectly into the path of Timothy Weah, who perhaps didn’t realize he was all alone in front of goal and unleashed a powerful shot that Alireza Beiranvand in the Iran goal caught with ease.

On the half hour mark, Weah once again took a brilliant position in the penalty area, but went well over the bar after being set up by Sargeant.

The USMNT’s pressure eventually told seven minutes before halftime, taking the lead after a sharp move by the team.

Weston McKennie’s pinpoint cross was headed across goal by the marauding Sergiño Desta and bravely headed in by Pulisic, who suffered a heavy collision with Beiranvand as the latter turned the ball over the line.

The USMNT’s delight quickly turned to concern as it was apparent that Pulisic was in significant pain after the clash, limping heavily as two medics helped him off the field.

Pulisic soon re-entered the field, but the Chelsea man was clearly still struggling with the shot.

Christian Pulisic is surrounded by his teammates after being injured after his goal.

As the USMNT grew in confidence, spaces began to open up in Iran’s defense and Weah thought he had doubled his side’s lead just before the break, finishing brilliantly with the outside of his boot only to be met by a linesman’s flag for the narrowest man ruled for offside .

Although Iran would have liked to have weathered that first-half storm, it was a surprisingly muted performance – especially after Pulisic’s goal – from a team that caused problems in the defense of both England and Wales in the 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 trouble USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner.

With the clock ticking down, Iran had a glorious opportunity to equalize but Morteza Pouraliganji’s low header flashed narrowly wide of the far post much to the relief of the American fans in the stands, many of whom held their heads in their hands.

There were loud calls for a penalty from Iran’s players late in the nine minutes of added time, with Mehdi Taremi insisting Cameron Carter-Vickers brought down the Porto forward as he tried to get in the center of the cross.

American players celebrate at the final whistle.

After a short, tense review, VAR decided that it was not a penalty and soon after referee Mateu Lahoz blew his whistle to stop the game.

Both teams fell to the floor – for very different reasons – but the USMNT will know that an improved performance is necessary if they are to have any chance of further progress in Qatar.

After the defeat, an emotional Saeid Ezatolahi asked for forgiveness from the Iranian fans.

Iran were in a strong position going into the final after that crucial 2-0 win over Wales, needing just a draw to progress, but had a disappointing performance to qualify for the knockout stages.

“I’m really sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we couldn’t get a chance to qualify for the next round,” the midfielder said.

“Life and football go and that can be a good lesson for us, at least for young players like me for the future. I hope our fans and our people in Iran will forgive us and I’m just sorry, that’s it.”

Iran coach Carlos Quieroz said that “the dream is over” but that he is already looking to the future.

“The first half was USA and the second half was Iran,” said Quieroz, who is Iran’s longest-serving coach, leading 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 like we should have. But the dream is over. Now the next step for Iran is being considered,” added Quieroz, who is the only coach to lead the team to back-to-back World Cups.

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