Christian Pulisic’s first-half goal separated the two sides as the USMNT reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2014.
The pressure was on for Greg Berhalder’s side in Qatar after the national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the US got the job done with three poor group performances.
It certainly wasn’t pretty at times, especially in the closing stages against Iran, but progressing through the group stage was the least expected of this exciting young team.
After Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury while hitting the winner, there will be some concerns going into the knockout stages.
The USMNT believes its star man, dubbed ‘Captain America’ by some, will be fit for Saturday’s Round of 16 clash against the Netherlands, following news that Pulisic has been sent to hospital for a scan.
This will be the third World Cup meeting between the two countries since France 1998 – a politically charged game in which Iran won 2-1.
It was the first time Iran and the US, sometimes officially described as the ‘Great Satan’ in Iran, had met on a football pitch and the biggest sporting event between the countries since the 1979 revolution.
The build-up to the game in Qatar has been similarly tense, with Iran calling for the USMNT to be kicked out of the World Cup after the U.S. Soccer Federation posted an Iranian flag without the Islamic Republic’s emblem on its social media platforms. Support the protesters in Iran.
USMNT manager Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams Avoiding accusations of hypocrisy and disrespect, he faced some tough questions from Iranian journalists in a fiery press conference.
The frenzy surrounding the game only added to the drama of the match – which, even in a vacuum away from off-field issues – can be fraught with tension.
Both teams knew a win would secure a spot in the Round of 16, but even a draw would not be enough for the USMNT to see it advance from the group.
There weren’t many signs of early nerves from the USMNT as Berhalter’s side dictated the play in the opening stages – enjoying 65% of the possession – until the 28th minute marked the first chance of that being noticed.
Josh Sergeant’s long-range effort deflected off an Iranian defender and fell right into the path of Timothy Weah, who didn’t realize he was alone in front of goal, and Alireza Beirenwand was caught in the Iran goal. Easily.
On the half-hour, Weah again took an excellent position inside the box but slid his effort well over the crossbar after being set up by Sargent.
The USMND’s pressure eventually took the lead seven minutes before halftime, following a dramatic team move.
Pulisic bravely bundled home Weston McKenney’s pinpoint cross-field ball, Marauding Sergino Test, only to collide fiercely with Beirenwand as he turned the ball over the line.
Much to the delight of the USMNT, it was clear that Pulisic was in considerable pain following the collision, limping heavily as two medics left the pitch.
Pulisic soon re-entered the pitch but the Chelsea man was clearly still struggling with the knock.
Gaps began to open up in Iran’s defense as USMNT grew in confidence, and Weah looked to double his team’s lead just before the break, finishing brilliantly on the outside of his boot. Offside results.
While Iran were happy to weather the storm in the first half, it was a surprisingly tame performance – particularly following Pulisic’s goal – from a team that had caused defensive problems for both England and Wales in its opening two games.
Iran started the second half with more authority, creating two brilliant chances for Saman Kodos, but the Brentford forward was unable to trouble USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner.
With the clock winding down, Iran had a glorious chance to level the score, but Mortessa Pooraliganji’s stooping header flew wide, much to the consolation of the American fans in the stands.
Nine minutes into added time there were loud calls for a penalty from the Iranian players, with Mehdi Daremi insisting that Cameron Carter-Vickers had pulled the Porto forward down when he tried to get on the end of a cross.
After a brief, tense test, VAR decided it was not a penalty, and referee Mathieu Lahoz soon blew the whistle to end the game.
Both teams sank to the ground – for very different reasons – but the USMNT will know that an improved performance is essential if they want to stand a chance of advancing further in Qatar.
Following the defeat, an emotional Saeed Esadolahi apologized to Iran fans.
Iran were in a strong position going into the finals following that crucial 2-0 win over Wales, needing only a draw to progress, but put in a disappointing performance in line for a place in the knockout stages.
“I am very sorry on behalf of our players, our team that we could not get the chance to qualify for the next round,” the midfielder said.
“Life and football happen and it will be a good lesson for us, at least for the future for young players like me. So our fans and our people in Iran, they will forgive us, I’m sorry, that’s all.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the “dream is over” but is already looking to the future.
“The first half is American and the second half is Iran,” said Quieroz, who is Iran’s longest-serving coach, managing the team from 2011 to 2019, before returning in September for a second spell in charge.
“The difference [was] We didn’t score in the second half. But, the dream is over. Now, it’s thinking about the next step for Iran,” said Queiroz, who is the only coach to lead the team to back-to-back World Cups.