DOHA, QATAR — Christian Pulisic scored the biggest goal of his career, and the United States Men's National Team defeats Iran 1-0 to advance to the knockout round in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
In an all-or-nothing contest, the U.S. had to defeat Iran, or they were out of the tournament. Iran needed to win or draw to advance. The different mindsets affected the overall energy and strategy of the game.
In the first half, Iran’s manager Carlos Queiroz had his team play ultra-defensively. Ten men stayed behind the center line for most of the first half, as all they needed to do was a tie. This fed into the U.S.’s strategy of all or nothing. Controlling possession for the majority of the first half, the Americans struggled to create significant opportunities in the final third near the box.
That all changed in the 38th minute. Weston McKennie floated a beautiful ball over the Iranians to a streaking Sergino Dest. Dest sent a header across the face of the goal, and Christian Pulisic broke through two defenders to put the ball in the back of the net.
However, the goal came at a cost. Pulisic smashed into the goalie, Alireza Beiranvand, after scoring and did not get up. The Americans played a man down while he received medical treatment. Eventually, he limped his way back on defense to finish the first half but did not return in the second.
The U.S. enacted a completely different strategy in the second half. They kept the pressure on the Iranians while relying on their prominent defenders to get the job done.
Perhaps seeing the error in Iran’s strategy, the U.S. did not fully commit to defense.
The tactic ultimately paid off. The U.S. almost scored on two different opportunities. One ball from Timothy Weah went in the net but was offside, while the other went wide.
Pressure mounted as the second half dragged on, and Iran gained ground. Saman Ghoddos went unmarked and sent a shot that just curled over the Americans' goal.
Then, in stoppage time, last-minute starter, Walker Carter-Vickers, had to beat out Mehdi Taremi as the striker advanced on the goal.
After nine extra minutes, the final whistle finally sounded, and U.S.’s gassed defense collapsed in relief. The Americans gave it their all and, in Pulisic’s case, his body to win.
The USMNT faces the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 9 a.m.