Christian Pulisic bundled the ball home at a cacophonous Al Thumama Stadium as the United States stormed into the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday by beating Iran 1-0 in a Group B contest shrouded by decades of enmity between the two nations.
Pulisic’s 38th-minute goal proved enough for the Americans to advance at the expense of their geopolitical rivals.
Sergino Dest headed the ball into the path of the sprinting Pulisic, who swept it into the net to momentarily silence the raucous Iranian supporters in front of him but he crashed into the outstretched Alireza Beiranvand in the process.
Pulisic was back on his feet after receiving treatment for a few minutes but did not look comfortable and he was replaced by Brenden Aaronson at the break after sustaining an abdominal injury, in a major blow for the Americans’ knockout stage hopes.
The U.S. finished two points behind Group B winners England to reach the last 16 for the fifth time since 1994. Iran finished third with three points, with Wales bottom with one point.
Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. team, the second youngest at this year’s finals, may lack experience on the big stage, but it stepped up and delivered a commanding performance when its spot at the World Cup was on the line.
Knowing that only a win would keep it in the tournament, it pressed with high intensity from the first whistle - its fullbacks almost playing as wingers - and chances flowed for its free-flowing attack.
Tim Weah, who spurned two glorious opportunities before Pulisic put the Americans ahead, had the ball in the net late in the first half, but his strike was ruled offside.
Iran, which only needed a point to advance, was largely restricted to playing on the counter and unable to muster a credible attempt at scoring until the second half.
Substitute Saman Ghoddos, who replaced Sardar Azmoun at half time, almost pulled Iran level after meeting a superb cross from Ramin Rezaeian in Team Melli’s best chance of the match but it never really troubled a dominant U.S. side.
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