The exhausted US kickers cheered with their fans on being in the round of 16, Iran's internationals were inconsolable after losing out in the preliminary round and left the big football stage with tears in their eyes. With a goal of pain, Christian Pulisic led the USA in the explosive group final into the knockout round of the World Cup.
The former Borussia Dortmund professional scored the acclaimed winning goal on Tuesday (38th minute) to make it 1-0 (1-0) in a politically charged duel that attracted a great deal of attention from the global public.
The Netherlands is now waiting for the USA
"The end of the game was amazing. We're happy with our performance and don't have to be afraid of any opponent," said US coach Gregg Berhalter. The USA, runners-up in their group, meet the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday, who won their group after beating tournament hosts Qatar 2-0. "It's a dream come true for us. We're a family and we want to win," said forward Timothy Weah.
In the heated stoppage time, however, the Americans had to tremble and survive some tricky situations. "We were tired and lost a lot of balls. But I'm proud of the team," said Berhalter. After the final whistle, the Iranians had a lot to discuss with the referee team, as they felt they had been robbed of a penalty shortly before the end. "We were missing a goal. The dream is over," said coach Carlos Queiroz.
24 years after the Iranians won 2-1 at the 1998 World Cup, the Americans celebrated a prestigious success after a dramatic final phase. After missing out on the World Cup in Russia four years ago, the USA are back in the knockout stages as they were at Brazil 2014.
Painful goal of the day
Pulisic threw himself into the ball after a beautiful combination over Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest in the scene of the day, colliding with Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand in the process. Five minutes later, the 24-year-old limped onto the pitch of the Al-Tuhmama Stadium again in front of 42,127 spectators. After the break, however, he was unable to continue due to a stomach injury. "We're grateful he threw his body in there," said midfielder Weston McKinney.
The Chelsea pro's energetic shot on goal was emblematic of the passion with which the two rivals tackled a fast-paced knockout game. There had already been a lot of trouble in the days before the important group duel, which was very intense from the start. On the one hand, the incomplete depiction of the Iranian flag by the US association or ambiguous statements by the former US national coach Jürgen Klinsmann caused resentment. On the other hand, Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams had to put up with provocative questions at the pre-game press conference.
On the pitch, despite the game's overwhelming importance, the focus was on the sport due to the serious political differences between the US and Iran - as desired by Berhalter and his Iranian counterpart Queiroz. Despite the frenetic cheering by shouts, drums and horns from the vast majority of Iranian fans, his selection for the two-time tournament goalscorer Mehdi Taremi had a hard time against the more structured and calm Americans - but turned up the heat after the break.
Iran passionately opposes it
In the midst of the worst protests in Iran for decades, however, the great importance of the game was always present; it started with the anthem. After the national team hadn't sung along before the 6-2 win against England at the start of the World Cup, they joined in as they did in the game against Wales - but all in all quite dispassionately. Iranian activists had interpreted the silence before the England game as a gesture of support for the nationwide protests in the country. As a result, threats of government sanctions were reported.
The team around midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, who ran onto the field with outstretched arms towards the sky and then put his hands in front of his face, fought against the World Cup with a lot of dedication. Not much was missing, and Saman Ghoddos, who came on for the ineffective Leverkusen Sardar Azmoun, would have headed in to equalize (52'). Ezatolahi also sniffed the 1-1 with his shot (70th).
The throng of Iranian fans in green, white and red didn't give up in their vociferous support from the stands - neither did the team on the field. The football-crazy country, in which Parvis Borumand became known on Tuesday after the release of national player Voria Ghafouri, but in the end shared the fever in vain.