Christian Pulisic scored his first World Cup goal before going off injured, but the U.S. men’s national team showed their resilience at the end to come away with a narrow win over Iran at the Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday night to advance to the second round.
It was very simple for the U.S. as they controlled their own destiny coming into this game: win and move to the next game on Saturday. It certainly was not going to be an easy task as Iran just needed to hold out for a draw to advance to the next stage for the first time in their history.
The hours, days, and months of hyping this game due to the geopolitical history of the two countries had come to an end. It was time to settle it on the field.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter returned to his trusted 4-3-3 formation with two notable changes. Josh Sargent returned to the line-up at center-forward in the place of Haji Wright. Cameron Carter-Vickers made his World Cup debut in the place of Walker Zimmerman to partner with Tim Ream in central defense.
The Americans were in attack mode from the start while the Iranians seemed to play deep in their own end as they knew a draw would suffice for their own passage to the knockout stage.
As with the previous Group B games against Wales and England, the U.S. looked threatening and played quite well. However, the lack of someone to put away the final ball prevented them from going out to an earlier lead. Pulisic had a chance to open the scoring in the 11th minute when got his head on a cross from Yunus Musah, but it proved to be not much of a threat as Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand grab the ball with ease.
Timothy Weah had a chance to score in the 28th minute when a shot from Josh Sargent to a deflection off an Iranian defenders leg, sending the ball skyward. The winger went up to head the ball towards the goal, but it went directly into the hands of Beiranvand.
After more than a half an hour of scoreless soccer, the U.S. finally got on the scoreboard in the 38th as Pulisic found the back of the net. Weston McKennie sent the ball over the top to Sergiño Dest who then headed it into the path of the Chelsea winger to tap in from close range.
The U.S. took the lead, but it came at a cost as Pulisic went down with an injury that would force to be subbed out at halftime.
Brenden Aaronson would come on for the injured Pulisic at the start of the second half as they pressed for a second goal to give themselves a cushion. However, it would not come as Berhalter resorted to a defensive posture in the latter stages of the game.
With Iran on the hunt for an equalizer that would have upended the Americans hold onto the second spot, the coach brought on Walker Zimmerman to add another center-back to defend against any further attacks from the opposition.
Iran pleaded for a penalty in the 83rd minute when they believed the ball came into contact with Shaq Moore’s arm, but the referee called for play to continue. That was followed up with nine minutes of stoppage time where anything could have happened to stop the U.S. from advancing. However, the defense continued to hold the line.
Then, with about two minutes left to play, the U.S. got a scare as Taremi went down in the area. The Iranians again believed they had a case for a penalty to be called, but a review from the video assistant referee show Carter-Vickers made no harsh contact with the forward.
With that, the final whistle was blown and the young American team will now try to keep their World Cup campaign going as they take on the Netherlands on Saturday.