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Captain America Pulisic punishes cautious Iran

November 30, 2022 07:30 IST
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IMAGE: Christian Pulisic scores the winning goal for US in the 38th minute during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match against Iran at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, on Tuesday. Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Christian Pulisic has had a season to forget for Chelsea but in the blue shirt of his beloved United States he scored the goal that gave them their first win at the 2022 World Cup and a spot in the last-16 at the expense of political rivals Iran.


Pulisic, who became the most expensive American player in 2019 when Chelsea signed him for 64 million euros ($66.09 million), has yet to set the Premier League on fire and has scored only one goal this season.

But two days after his marginalized Chelsea team mate Hakim Ziyech also inspired Morocco to victory over Belgium, Pulisic stepped up for the US after a stodgy opening two games in the group campaign.

The 24-year-old put his body on the line, injuring his abdomen in a collision while scoring the goal, to send the Americans through to the knockout stages before he was taken off.

"He was taken to the hospital as a precaution, he was feeling some dizziness after a blow to his abdomen," US coach Gregg Berhalter said, refusing to speculate if his star forward would face the Netherlands in the last-16.

IMAGE: Christian Pulisic injured his abdomen in a collision with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand while scoring the goal, to send the Americans through to the knockout stages before he was taken off. Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Iran, meanwhile, paid the price for their cautious approach and failed to have a single shot on target in the entire game.

Four decades of frosty relations between the two countries after the US cut diplomatic ties in 1980 overshadowed the Group B fixture as the politics surrounding the game created a stifling atmosphere in Doha.

Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams had dealt with a verbal volley of questions from Iranian journalists at their pre-match press conference on topics ranging from the US Navy's presence in the Persian Gulf to discrimination back in the States.

Both men were undeterred, however, and answered each question with grace and humility without raising tensions in the room ahead of one of the most politically-charged matches of the tournament.

But for a little over 100 minutes, all eyes were on the 22 players that kicked a ball around in the desert inside a raucous Al Thumama Stadium with the constant drone of vuvuzelas drowning out the chants.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, who had been thrown up in the air by his team after they beat Wales, was brought back down to earth when his conservative approach to the game backfired in front of their fans who vastly outnumbered the Americans.

The Asian side had set up to absorb pressure and counter-attack knowing that a draw would most likely see them through to the knockout stages for the first time barring a high-scoring, historical upset by Wales over England.

Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun was Iran's furthest man forward but he often found himself isolated as his team mates dropped deep to deny the Americans any space.

IMAGE: The US players celebrate winning their match against Iran. Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Chances were at a premium in the opening 45 minutes but all the action was in Iran's half with US goalkeeper Matt Turner barely called into action while Cameron Carter-Vickers proved to be a brick wall in central defence.

Iran keeper Alireza Beiranvand was kept busy, however, and after a few half-chances and warning shots, the breakthrough came in the 38th minute when the industrious Americans finally got in behind enemy lines.

With Iran playing a six-man back line off the ball, it took a lob over the top to find right back Sergino Dest and his first-time header across goal was bravely bundled over the line by Pulisic, who was injured in a collision with the keeper.

But true to his 'Captain America' nickname, the Chelsea forward attempted to soldier on after receiving treatment and the US contingent in the stadium reserved their loudest cheer when he jogged back on to the pitch.

Pulisic was not to be seen in the second half, however, but he had done his job as his team mates saw out the game despite some late pressure from the Iranians.

In the end it was three valuable points to leapfrog Iran as the Americans exacted revenge for their loss at the 1998 World Cup which was dubbed the "the mother of all football matches".

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