The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) went all out for their place in the knockout stage of the World Cup, earning a hard-fought 1-0 win over Iran in A nerve-wracking Group B decision at Qatar 2022.
Christian 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 failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the USA got the job done with three group stage performances gritty
It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, particularly in the latter stages against Iran, but progressing through the group stage was the minimum expectation for this exciting young team.
There will be some concerns heading into the knockout stages, however, after Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury while scoring the winner.
The USMNT will be hoping that its star player, dubbed ‘Captain America’ by some, will be fit for the round of 16 match against the Netherlands on Saturday following the news that Pulisic had been sent to the -hospital for a scan.
This was only the third ever meeting between the two nations and their first World Cup clash since France 1998 – a politically charged game which saw Iran emerge as shock winners 2-1.
It was the first time that Iran and the United States, sometimes officially described in Iran as the ‘Great Satan’, had met on the football field and the biggest sporting occasion between the countries since the revolution of 1979.
The build-up to 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 put up an Iranian flag without the -emblem of the Islamic Republic on its social media platforms to show support for the protesters in Iran.
USMNT manager Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams also faced some tough questions from Iranian reporters in a fiery press conference, fending off 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 matters off the field – was guaranteed to be full of tension.
Both teams knew that a win would secure a place in the round of 16, but for the USMNT even a draw would not have been enough to see them advance from the group.
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 to create the first chance of note.
Josh Sargeant’s long range effort deflected off an Iranian defender and fell perfectly into the path of Timothy Weah, who perhaps didn’t realize he was all alone in front of goal and headed Alireza Beiranvand into the goal. Iranian picked up. with ease.
On the half hour mark, Weah once again took a brilliant position inside the box but skied his effort well over the bar after being set up by Sargeant.
The USMNT’s pressure eventually told seven minutes before halftime, and they took the lead after an incisive team move.
Weston McKennie’s ball was headed in by Sergiño Dest and bravely met by Pulisic, who collided hard with Beiranvand as he turned the ball over the line.
The USMNT’s delight quickly turned to worry as it was evident that Pulisic was in great pain after the encounter, limping heavily as he was helped off the field by two doctors.
Pulisic quickly re-entered the field, but it is clear that the Chelsea man was still struggling with the knock.
As the USMNT grew in confidence, spaces began to open up in Iran’s defense and Weah looked to have doubled his side’s lead just before the break, finishing beautifully with the outside. of his boot only to be met by the linesman’s flag for the narrowest of. offside decisions.
Although Iran would have been happy to weather that first-half storm, it was a surprisingly subdued performance – particularly after Pulisic’s goal – from a team that had caused defensive problems in both England and ‘Wales in the opening of his two games.
Iran started the second half with more authority, creating two brilliant chances for Saman Ghoddos but the Brentford forward could not trouble USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner.
With time ticking away, Iran had a glorious chance to equalize but Morteza Pouraliganji’s deflected header deflected wide of the far post much to the relief of the American fans in the stands, many who had their heads in their hands.
There were loud calls for a penalty from the Iranian players late in the nine minutes of added time, with Mehdi Taremi insisting that Cameron Carter-Vickers had pulled the Porto forward down as he tried to get on the end of ‘cross.
After a short and tense check, the VAR decided that it was not a penalty and shortly after the referee Mateu Lahoz blew his whistle to end the game.
Both teams sank to the ground – for reasons of great difference – but the USMNT will know that an improved performance is necessary if it is to have a chance to advance further in Qatar.
After the defeat, an emotional Saeid Ezatolahi asked for forgiveness from the fans of Iran.
Iran were in a strong position going into the final game after that crucial 2-0 win over Wales, needing just a draw to progress, but put in a disappointing performance with a place in the knockout stages. knockout on the line.
“I am very sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we could not get our opportunity to qualify for the next round,” said the midfielder.
“Life and football go on and that can be a good lesson for us, at least for young players like me for the future. So I hope that our fans and our people in Iran, forgive us and I feel sorry, that’s it.”
Iran coach Carlos Quieroz said “the dream is over” but he is already looking to the future.
“The first half was the United States and the second half was Iran,” Quieroz, who is Iran’s longest serving coach, having led the team from 2011 to 2019, said before he did not return for a second term in September.
“The difference [was] they didn’t score in the second half as they should have. But, the dream is over. Now, you are thinking about the next step for Iran,” added Quieroz, who is the only coach to lead the team to consecutive World Cups.