United States advanced to the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday by beating Iran 1-0 at a cacophonous Al Thumama Stadium after Christian Pulisic bundled the ball home in a Group B showdown 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 in a rematch of their 1998 World Cup group stage meeting, which Iran had won 2-1 at a time when bilateral relations were hostile.
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.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said the Chelsea forward was taken to hospital as a precaution. His team, who drew their first two games, will face three-times finalists Netherlands on Saturday for a place in the quarter-finals.
The Americans 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.
“In the first half we showed what we can do, soccer wise. We had a really good first half. Second half we showed what we could do determination wise. The guys grinded, gave every single ounce and we are undefeated going into the next round,” Berhalter said.
On the Iranian side, coach Carlos Queiroz said his team deserved at least a draw after the defeat ended his side’s dreams.
Iran needed at least a draw in the Group B clash to have a chance of reaching the knockout stages, but the United States won through Christian Pulisic’s goal seven minutes before halftime to go through and play the Netherlands in the last 16.
“Football gods bless those who score goals, and unfortunately we didn’t score,” Queiroz told a news conference.
“I said before the match that the United States were the most consistent team in the first two games,” he added, referring to their draws with Wales and England, who qualified as group winners after beating the Welsh 3-0.
“The United States started the match as they did against Wales and England, and they were better than us, more ferocious and faster, and scored a goal, and I was not surprised by that.
“But in the second half the situation changed and we took possession of the ball and created more chances than the United States did in the first half and we deserved to score at least a goal.
“The United States players have the speed and if I may say when you play against Ferraris you need to close the highway, and that’s what we did after the break and we were the better team.”