The USA defeats Iran and thus reaches the round of 16 of the soccer World Cup in Qatar. The game is more politically charged than any other, the Iranian team was banned from losing from home. Fans and players of the two political arch-enemies provide the contrast.
With a painful goal Christian Pulisic led the USA in the explosive group final against Iran into the World Cup round of 16. The former Borussia Dortmund professional scored the acclaimed winning goal (38th minute) to make it 1-0 (1-0). 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.
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. The players of both teams delivered a contrasting program to the political tensions in both countries on the pitch: Despite the sporting importance of the game, it was extremely fair.
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. The Chelsea pro's energetic shot on goal was emblematic of the passion with which the two rivals tackled a fast-paced knockout game.
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 requested by Berhalter and his Iranian counterpart Carlos 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.
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 mood around Al Thumama Stadium had been peaceful before kick-off. Fans from both sides greeted each other amicably, only competing with battle chants. Many followers took pictures together and hugged each other. "It's not a problem, they are friends," said a young Iranian supporter living in Qatar. And an Iranian from London said: "It's just a football game." The United States and Iran are politically hostile. In the state doctrine of the Islamic Republic, the USA is considered the "Great Satan". The Iranian capital Tehran had said that this game must not be lost.
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.