Friday, May 24, 2024

FIFA World Cup: Christian Pulisic sends fired-up USA to last 16 in simmering contest with Iran

FIFA World Cup 2022
Group B – Iran v United States – Christian Pulisic of the US scores their first goal. (Photo: REUTERS/Stuart Franklin)

DOHA, November 30: Christian Pulisic bundled the ball home at a cacophonous Al Thumama Stadium as the United States stormed into the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday by beating Iran 1-0 in a Group B contest shrouded by decades of enmity between the two nations.
Pulisic’s 38th minute goal proved enough for the Americans to advance at the expense of their geopolitical rivals.
Sergino Dest headed the ball into the path of the sprinting Pulisic, who swept it into the net to momentarily silence the raucous Iranian supporters in front of him but he crashed into the outstretched Alireza Beiranvand in the process.
Pulisic was back on his feet after receiving treatment for a few minutes but did not look comfortable and he was replaced by Brenden Aaronson at the break after sustaining an abdominal injury, in a major blow for the Americans’ knockout stage hopes.
The U.S. finished two points behind Group B winners England to reach the last 16 for the fifth time since 1994. Iran finished third with three points, with Wales bottom with one point.
Gregg Berhalter’s U.S. team, the second youngest at this year’s finals, may lack experience on the big stage but they stepped up and delivered a commanding performance when their spot at the World Cup was on the line.
Knowing that only a win would keep them in the tournament, they pressed with high intensity from the first whistle – their full backs almost playing as wingers – and chances flowed for their free-flowing attack.
Tim Weah, who spurned two glorious opportunities before Pulisic put the Americans ahead, had the ball in the net late in the first half but his strike was ruled offside.
Iran, who only needed a point to advance, were largely restricted to playing on the counter and unable to muster a credible attempt at scoring until the second half.
Substitute Saman Ghoddos, who replaced Sardar Azmoun at half time, almost pulled Iran level after meeting a superb cross from Ramin Rezaeian in Team Melli’s best chance of the match but they never really troubled a dominant U.S. side.
England roar into last 16 as Marcus Rashford scores twice in 3-0 Wales rout
Marcus Rashford’s second-half strikes propelled England to a comprehensive 3-0 win over neighbours Wales, sending them into the World Cup Round of 16. Ending the Welsh hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage, the Three Lions ended as Group B winners with 7 points.
Along with the Rashford double, Phil Foden found the back of the net as England outclassed Wales at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. After a sedate first half, the match came to life when Rashford curled home a free kick from the edge of the area in the 50th minute.
An unmarked Foden footed a Harry Kane’s cross into the net a minute later.
Rashford then inflicted a final blow, finding the net with a shot that went through the legs of goalkeeper Danny Ward in the 68th minute.
Wales, who needed an unlikely four-goal victory in a fixture they had not won since 1984 to reach the knockout rounds, defended deeply and frustrated England in a subdued first half at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
But they caved in after the break as Gareth Southgate’s side, who will face Senegal in the next round, took their goals tally in the group to nine.
Wales could have reached the last 16 with a victory if the match between Iran and the United States ended level but any hope of that scenario unfolding evaporated rapidly after Rashford and Foden strikes.
Wales, whose talisman Gareth Bale was substituted at halftime having made no impact, looked crestfallen as their first World Cup for 64 years fizzled out.
Manchester United’s Rashford, whose place in the squad was uncertain a few months ago after he struggled with form and injuries, now has three goals in the tournament.
England’s 0-0 draw with the United States had brought them back down to earth after an opening 6-2 rout of Iran.
But they will go into their last-16 clash with Group A runners-up Senegal full of confidence.
For Wales, their return to the World Cup stage has been all too brief for the fans who were given little to cheer in their three matches as they finished bottom with a solitary point.
(Agencies /ToI With inputs from agencies)