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USMNT Holds On to Beat Iran, Advances to World Cup Knockout Stage

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U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter likened the squad’s last group match at the 2022 World Cup to a knockout game, and he wasn’t wrong.

It took every last second—including that in the nine minutes of second-half stoppage time—but the U.S. beat Iran in a match it had to win, riding Christian Pulisic’s 38th-minute goal to a 1–0 triumph and a second-place finish in Group B. England, a 3–0 winner over Wales, topped the group, meaning the Three Lions are set for a date with Group A runner-up Senegal. The U.S., meanwhile, will face the Netherlands on Saturday in what will actually be a knockout game.

Berhalter made two changes from the lineup that started against England on Friday, giving Cameron Carter-Vickers his World Cup debut in place of Walker Zimmerman, while Josh Sargent was restored to the XI after sitting vs. the Three Lions in favor of Haji Wright. Gio Reyna, whose lack of playing time has become a talking point surrounding this team, remained an option off the bench, but did not play. Carter-Vickers didn’t play at all in World Cup qualifying, and he had never partnered with the U.S.’s other center back, Tim Ream, before Tuesday.

Three of the U.S. starters (Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest, Ream) were carrying yellow cards that they saw in the opener vs. Wales, but all remained unscathed from picking up a second, which would have resulted in a suspension for Saturday.

The U.S. avoided the worst imaginable start in the opening minute, after Iran won a free kick in the U.S. half. The curled-in service was cleared, but it also signaled how nerve-wracking an occasion this could be, each set piece an opportunity to secure the edge needed to tilt the scales.

The U.S. answered with an immediate counterattack spearheaded by Pulisic, but he took perhaps a touch too many instead of trying to find Sargent to his right, with Iran taking the ball off him and stopping the threat.

The U.S. enjoyed sustained pressure in the ninth minute. After Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand punched a cross directly into the air, the ball fell for Pulisic on the left-hand side. His cross wound up falling for Yunus Musah at the edge of the area, and the midfielder, who turned 20 on Tuesday, rifled his first-time chance over the bar.

Beiranvand was called on to make his first save in the 11th minute. Musah sent in a cross for Pulisic, who headed across goal, but the save was comfortable enough.

Another dangerous moment came in the 16th minute, when Dest was played into space to be able to cross from the right. His ball forced Beiranvand to come off his line and make a diving play to palm it to safety before a U.S. attacker could meet it.

A nervy sequence for the U.S. defense came four minutes later, when Iran had a 2-v-2 against the two U.S. center backs, but Ream made the play that was needed, blocking Mehdi Taremi’s squared pass to prevent anything coming from it.

Beiranvand made another save for Iran in the 28th minute on an unorthodox play. Sargent’s shot from outside the box was blocked and popped straight into the air, allowing Tim Weah to have an unmarked look. He opted for a header, but it was hit right at the keeper, who made the clean catch.

Weah missed again in the 33rd. Sargent held the ball up deep in the Iran box before laying it off to Weah. His blast was overhit, though, the U.S.’s sixth shot of the match sailing over the bar.

The pressure finally paid off in the 39th minute. McKennie clipped a ball over the top to Dest, who headed across the box into the six-yard area. Pulisic crashed hard, collided with Beiranvand and delivered the opener with a first-time finish.

Pulisic remained down for a considerable amount of time and received treatment to the side of the field, but he wound up returning after a few minutes of the U.S. playing a man down.

The U.S. had a second goal taken off the board by offside deep into stoppage time. McKennie had played Weah through on the left-hand side, and the winger beat Beiranvand to his far post. The flag went up, though, ruling that Weah had been just inches off at the time of the pass and taking away what would have been a dagger of a second goal, especially considering the timing.

Pulisic was replaced at halftime, the injury he suffered on the goal ultimately preventing him from continuing on (he was later taken to the hospital for scans on what U.S. Soccer deemed an abdominal injury). Brenden Aaronson came on in his place, with the Leeds winger tasked with helping the U.S. either pad its lead or finish off Iran as is. 

Aaronson made an immediate contribution, playing Sargent through in the 47th minute, but the Norwich forward’s left-footed shot was saved by Beiranvand, after an initial bobble.

At the same time this was happening, England scored two goals in quick succession—through Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden—making the group calculus a bit more straightforward. Winning the group effectively became out of the question for the U.S., which, entering the day, was a secondary concern and, admittedly, a bit of a long shot scenario.

Iran, meanwhile, needed only to force a draw to secure its place in the knockout stage, and it came close to pulling level in the 65th minute, when Saman Ghoddos curled an effort from the center of the box wide of Matt Turner’s post.

Right after that, Berhalter went back to his bench, bringing on Kellyn Acosta for McKennie, fresh legs in a midfield grouping that knew it was in for an intense last 25 minutes. 

The U.S. had a great opportunity to double its lead in the 69th minute, when an Iran handball gifted the Americans a free kick from about 20 yards, straightaway. Musah stepped up to take it, but he put his chance over the bar.

Sargent was forced out in the 78th minute, the recipient of a hard tackle that resulted in some sort of leg injury. Wright came on in his place, looking to help the U.S. close out the win.

More defensive-minded players came on for the final 10 minutes, with Zimmerman and Shaq Moore coming on for Weah and Dest. Almost instantly, Moore was thrown into a tight spot, with a cross popping up and rolling against his arm, which was pinned to his body, before Turner collected the ball. No review was necessary despite Iranian shouts for a penalty.

Things got even more tense when nine minutes of stoppage time were added, and in the third of those minutes, Iran came close to the goal that would’ve dumped the U.S. out, a near-post header off a free kick going agonizingly wide of the post.

That intensity ramped up in the final seconds, when Taremi went down under pressure from Carter-Vickers in the U.S. box, but again, VAR was not consulted for a potential penalty, and the U.S. was let off. The final whistle sounded soon after, and the U.S. had secured passage to the round of 16. 

Here were the lineups for both teams:

Full World Cup Squads


GOALKEEPERS: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

DEFENDERS: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Shaq Moore (Nashville SC), Tim Ream (Fulham), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

MIDFIELDERS: Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

FORWARDS: Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Tim Weah (Lille), Haji Wright (Antalyaspor)

COACH: Gregg Berhalter


GOALKEEPERS: Amir Abedzadeh (Ponferradina), Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Hossein Hosseini (Esteghlal), Payam Niazmand (Sepahan)

DEFENDERS: Rouzbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (AEK Athens), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor), Abolfazl Jalali (Esteghlal), Hossein Kanaanizadegan (Al-Ahli), Shojae Khalilzadeh (Al-Ahli), Milad Mohammadi (AEK Athens), Sadegh Moharrami (Dinamo Zagreb), Morteza Pouraliganji (Persepolis), Ramin Rezaeian (Sepahan)

MIDFIELDERS: Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saeid Ezatolahi (Vejle), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), Ali Gholizadeh (Charleroi), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord), Ali Karimi (Kayserispor), Ahmad Nourollahi (Shabab Al-Ahli), Mehdi Torabi (Persepolis)

FORWARDS: Karim Ansarifard (Omonia), Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), Mehdi Taremi (Porto)

COACH: Carlos Queiroz

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