Christian Pulisic scored a first-half winner and injured himself in the process as the United States earned a 1-0 win over Iran to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.
The Chelsea forward fired home from close range in the 38th minute but a heavy collision with goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand left him limping and although he managed to see out the final few minutes of the half, Pulisic was replaced at the break.
Timothy Weah had a goal chalked off for offside on the brink of half-time and although Iran improved after the break, they offered little in attack and failed to get back in the game when a draw would’ve been enough to send them to the knockout stages for the first time.
The USA finished as runners-up in Group B with five points and will face the Netherlands in the next round.
The build-up to the game was dominated by off-field controversy and uncomfortable press conferences in the wake of the USA social media team’s decision to alter the Iranian flag.
But on the pitch, it was a momentous occasion for both teams, a straight shoot-out for a knockout stage spot.
The Americans stepped up to the occasion by quickly taking control of the game, although a lack of cutting edge threatened to let them down as Weah headed a good chance straight at the goalkeeper before lashing over another from a good position.
The breakthrough arrived when Sergino Dest, who was lively throughout the first half, made a great run in behind the defence and nodded Weston McKennie’s long ball into the path of Pulisic for a tap-in, although celebrations were muted as the Chelsea man required treatment afterwards.
Weah finally showed some cool in front of goal deep in first-half stoppage time when he got in behind the Iran defence and stabbed a superb finish into the bottom corner, but the offside flag was raised.
Pulisic didn’t reappear for the second half and Iran raised their game, but Carlos Quieroz’s side lacked inventiveness and spark and couldn’t find the equaliser that would’ve changed their World Cup fate despite concerted late pressure, ultimately finishing the match with just one shot on target.
TALKING POINT – JOY AND WORRY FOR PULISIC
Pulisic’s strike gave the USA a deserved win to send them through in what was a must-win game brimming with pressure.
But what should have been one of the Chelsea forward’s proudest moments in his national team’s shirt proved to be a sore one instead, as he required treatment in the goalmouth following a heavy collision.
Initially Pulisic looked certain to come off, as he was supported by two American medical staff while getting to his feet, and looked like he needed help walking.
It was encouraging that he felt able to return to the pitch, at least for the 10 minutes or so until half-time, but his subsequent withdrawal will be a concern for USA fans. Hopefully the 24-year-old is able to recover quickly, with a big challenge against the Netherlands coming up next.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – SERGINO DEST
The United States dominated in the first half, but it may well have been a hard luck story for them had they not found a way to turn that control into a goal.
Dest was electric in the opening 45 minutes, swinging in dangerous crosses and taking on defenders, and it was his clever run in behind the defence and composed headed assist that proved to be the moment that decided the match.
Iran: Beiranvand 6, Rezaeian 7, Majid Hosseini 7, Pouraliganji 6, Mohammadi 6, Noorollahi 6, Ezatolahi 6, Hajsafi 6, Gholizadeh 6, Azmoun 5, Taremi 6
Subs: Karimi 6, Ghoddos 6, Jalali 6, Torabi 6, Ansarifard 5
USA: Turner 6, Dest 8, Carter-Vickers 7, Ream 7, Robinson 7, McKennie 6, Adams 7, Musah 7, Weah 6, Sargent 6, Pulisic 7
Subs: Aaronson 7, Acosta 6, Wright 6, Zimmerman 6, Moore 6
38’ GOAL! USA TAKE THE LEAD! It’s been coming! Dest is again heavily involved. The right-back makes a great run and McKennie spots it, lofting a high ball behind the Iranian defence, which is nodded across goal by Dest and fired home by Pulisic.
50’ WEAH GOAL RULED OUT! Weah thinks he’s doubled the USA’s lead at the end of the first half, with a terrific finish into the bottom far corner to beat the keeper, but the offside flag was up.
93′ SO CLOSE! Iran win a free-kick out on the left wing. It’s whipped in low and Pouraliganji gets there with a diving header, but directs his effort just wide of the front post! Good chance.
99′ IRAN CLOSE AGAIN! That was a big chance! A long ball is nodded on towards Taremi, who slides the ball through Turner’s legs, but Zimmerman is back to clear before it can trickle over the line. The Iranian bench are on the pitch appealing for a penalty, but it doesn’t look like one and the referee thinks so too.