Christian Pulisic scores the decisive goal in the 38th minute but is injured on the play as the United States defeats Iran to advance at the World Cup.
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Needing a victory to advance to the final 16 of the World Cup, the U.S. took care of business Tuesday, edging Iran 1-0 on a Christian Pulisic goal late in the first half.
With the win, the unbeaten U.S. (1-0-2) finished second to England in its group and will meet Group A champion the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday. Iran, meanwhile, goes home short of the knockout stages for the sixth time in an many visits to the World Cup.
But the Iranians didn’t make it easy for the Americans, battling to the final minute of stoppage time that left the U.S. win in jeopardy until the final whistle. The U.S. weathered two prime scoring opportunities by the Iranians in a chaotic finish to punch their ticket to the next round.
The only goal the U.S. needed came in the 38th minute when Pulisic got a half-step on Iranian defenders Majid Hosseini and Ramin Rezaeian, allowing him to redirect a headed cross from Sergiño Dest into the net from inside the 6-yard box.
The U.S. showed some excellent passing in the set-up to goal with a back pass from Tyler Adams sending the ball into the center of the field for Weston McKennie, who picked out an unmarked Dest sprinting up the wing. Dest’s cross from just outside the right edge of the six-yard box was so accurate all Pulisic had to do was stick out his right boot to deflect it in before colliding Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand.
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Pulisic appeared to take a knee to the groin and spent several long minutes being tended to in the goal before eventually rising and briefly returning to the game. He didn’t start the second half, however, coming out in favor of Brenden Aaronson. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter told Fox Sports’ Jenny Taft at halftime that Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury.
Pulisic has been involved in both U.S. goals in this tournament, setting up Tim Weah’s score in the opening game and then getting one of his own against Iran. Weah thought it had made it 2-0 just before the break, but he was deemed to be just a fraction offside before rolling a shot in off the far post.
With Cameron Carter-Vickers replacing Walker Zimmerman at center back, the U.S. started a World Cup lineup composed entirely of players on European professional teams for the first time in its history. With an average age a month under 25 years old, it was also the youngest starting 11 of this tournament. Iran, meanwhile, has the oldest team in Qatar, and the age difference seemed apparent in a first half in which the U.S. built a 61%-41% edge in possession and outshot Iran 9-0.
But then Iran, which needed only a tie to advance, showed little interest in going forward, bunkering down with as many as seven defenders in the box. Pulisic’s goal changed that, leaving Iran needing a score of its own to advance out of group play for the first time.
Iran, which scored all four of its goals in this tournament in the second half — with three of those coming in stoppage time — opened the game up after the intermission and had several dangerous chances, but it never tested U.S. keeper Matt Turner until the closing minutes.
Turner hasn’t allowed a goal from the run of play, conceding only a penalty-kicked goal to Wales’ Gareth Bale in the first game.
The U.S. game against the Netherlands is set for Saturday at 7 a.m. PT, televised by Fox and Telemundo.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.