Christian Pulisic shot the United States into the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday as the Americans beat Iran 1-0 in their politically charged grudge match.
Chelsea star Pulisic scored the only goal of the do-or-die Group B match in 38 minutes to set up a second-round clash with Group A winners Netherlands on Saturday.
The victory was no less than the youthful side of American coach Gregg Berhalter deserved in what was only the third international football game between the bitter ideological rivals.
The build-up to a pulsating showdown has been marked by steadily escalating tensions, with Iran’s football federation on Sunday demanding FIFA sanction US Soccer for posting a modified version of their country’s flag on social media.
2022 FIFA World Cup Points Table | 2022 FIFA World Cup Schedule | 2022 FIFA World Cup Results | FIFA World Cup 2022 Golden Boot
But despite a thrilling atmosphere at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, Tuesday’s match passed without controversy as the US avenged their 1998 World Cup defeat to Iran to send the Asian qualifiers out of the tournament.
Iran’s fans had roared their team onto the field at the start of the match amid a deafening cacophony of air horns and cheers from the crowd of 42,127.
But despite the intimidating reception, it was the Americans who looked more comfortable and quickly established their dominance.
US captain Tyler Adams and Juventus’ Weston McKennie checked procedures in midfield as Iran struggled to gain a foothold.
– Offensive Ambition –
The US signaled its offensive ambition after just two minutes, Pulisic storming forward menacingly before being dispossessed.
That was one form of things to come when they laid siege to the Iranian target.
Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah shot over the bar and Pulisic just couldn’t get enough power on a header from a cross from Antonee Robinson.
Fullback Sergino Dest was a constant threat down the right flank for the Americans, with a cross in the 17th minute that Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand could only parry.
After continued American pressure, the breakthrough finally came in the 38th minute.
A brilliant crossfield pass from McKennie picked Dest out on the right.
The AC Milan defender headed back over the goal and Pulisic was ready to finish bravely.
There was alarm for American fans with Pulisic requiring long-term treatment after a heavy clash with Beiranvand, but it was the Iranians and their vociferous fans who were left breathless by the goal.
The crowd immediately subdued and the US came close to doubling their lead twice before half time.
Josh Sargent and Tim Weah combined well with a dazzling counter-attack but the last ball went wrong.
Then McKennie’s sublime stoppage time pass found Weah who finished brilliantly past Beiranvand but was just ruled offside.
Also read | FIFA World Cup 2022: Netherlands lose Qatar 2-0 on their way to knockout round
Knowing that an equalizer would send them to the second round, the Iranians turned up the pressure in the second half.
But substitute Saman Ghoddos wasted two gilt-edged chances to get his team into the match, heading over from close range before firing a shot over the crossbar in the 65th minute with the entire goal to aim for.
Soon after, Saeid Ezatolahi curled a long shot over the crossbar as the Americans continued to live dangerously.
Iran threatened again in the last 10 minutes as Ali Karimi just failed to get to the end of a teasing cross from Ezatolahi.
A diving header from Morteza Pouraliganji whistled just wide in stoppage time and then Mehdi Taremi was awarded a penalty after a tangle with Cameron Carter waved Vickers off to ring American nerves before their team held on to a famous win.
Read all the latest sports news here