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Friday, February 3, 2023

FIFA WC: Pulisic strike sends USA into last-16

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Christian Pulisic’s decisive strike helped USA beat Iran 1-0 to set up an intriguing FIFA World Cup last-16 encounter with the Netherlands.

The US started at express pace, swarming all over Carlos Queiroz’s team and working Alireza Beyranvand with a header from Pulisic and Sergino Dest’s fizzing low cross.

Beyramvand should have been further extended after 28 minutes but Tim Weah wasn’t aware he lacked company in the penalty box and lobbed a tame headed attempt into the goalkeeper’s gloves.

Iran didn’t muster a corner, let alone a shot, in the opening 45 minutes. And USA capitalised on their dominance seven minutes before the break.

Weston McKennie spread a ball to Dest, speeding behind the Iranian defence, and the outstanding right-back’s first-time header across goal was met by the onrushing Pulisic to turn home from six yards. The forward was hurt colliding with Beyramvand, as he scored, and Pulisic ultimately succumbed to his injury at half-time.

“No update on Pulisic’s fitness, but it is a wonderful thing when one of your best players is one of the hardest working. And he is certainly that, I can’t say enough positive things about Christian,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter on match-winner Christian Pulisic, who was injured in the act of scoring.

Coach Berhalter’s team were ruing the offside flag that spoiled a big moment for Weah, who applied a lovely finish when clean through, by that stage. And Iran, knowing a point was enough to advance, returned from the break a different beast.

Saman Ghoddos, sent on for the second 45 minutes, headed over from a good position, then whistled a strike past the upright, albeit Iran were penalised for a foul as the ball travelled to Ghoddos. That wouldn’t have counted.

But a diving header from Morteza Pouraliganji in the third minute of stoppage time would have, had the ball flown inside goalkeeper Matt Turner’s post and not half-a-yard wide.

Three games and nine days the USA snared second spot behind England in Group B.

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