Iran suffered a heartbreaking exit from the 2022 FIFA World Cup after succumbing to a slender 1-0 defeat at the hands of the United States in their final Group B match on Tuesday at the Al-Thumama Stadium. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic scored the winner in this politically-charged tie to seal the runners-up spot in Group B, advancing into the knockouts alongside group winners England.
The buildup towards the match saw tensions flaring up both on and off the pitch, as both sides still had a fighting chance of qualifying into the round of 16.
Add the political tensions behind the two nations – with both Iran and the United States having ceased diplomatic relations since 1980 as well as the current anti-governmental protests in Iran being “blamed” on the US by the Iranian government – and you’ve got a feisty encounter in your hands.
Surprisingly the opening few minutes of the match was quite tepid. Iran – who only needed a point to qualify out of Group B – applied pressure on the American defense in the match’s opening stages, however Team Melli failed to pose any significant threat to the USA’s goalkeeper Matt Turner.
The United States, on the other hand, relied on the energy of Sergino Dest, the pace of Pulisic, and the deliveries of Antonee Robinson to slowly pry open the Iranian defense.
After 38 minutes, the Stars and Stripes finally found their way. A pass from Weston McKennie was well-received by Dest, with the AC Milan player heading the ball off towards Pulisic, who bundled home past Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
American fans were made to worry for a few minutes as Pulisic went down after scoring, having collided with Beiranvand when he scored his goal, and he was replaced in half-time by Leeds United’s Brendan Aaronson.
Iran threw the sink at the US defense in an attempt to claw their way back into the game, however the likes of Saman Ghoddos, Saied Ezatolahi, and Ali Karimi spurned their chances, the trio barely providing any opposition to Turner.
Iran’s final throw of the dice was a header after a free-kick from Morteza Pouraliganji that went wide, before slight controversy broke out after Mehdi Taremi was fouled by Cameron Carter-Vickers. The Iranian players asked the referee to award them a penalty, but their pleas were unheard.
In the end the United States managed to defend their slender lead, celebrating a hard-fought win after full-time as Iranian players slumped down onto the pitch – having been agonizingly eliminated from the World Cup by the defeat.
Group B’s other match on Tuesday saw Marcus Rashford scoring a brace and Phil Foden scoring once as England ran out as group winners with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Wales at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Doha.
By winning the group, England will face Group A runners-up Senegal in the round of 16, while the United States will take on Group A winners the Netherlands in their own knockout tie.