Christian Pulisic's courage made the difference in the Big Devils World Cup vs Iran II

The Americans entered the business end of the tournament with confidence after a Chelsea player put his body on the line

It's never going to be easy. Then again, there's no such intense pressure to be the American football player of choice. But when the right opportunity arrived, Christian Pulisic gave his body for his team and finally achieved his signature moment on the international stage.

With the temperature of the geopolitical proxy war between the United States and Iran in the first World Cup in the Middle East having reached a boiling point, Pulisic turned down the volume with the United States' much-must-have goal, straining the differences. and a dazzling win-or-go-home fight for Americans. When SergiƱo Dest steered a header towards goal from Weston McKennie's floated cross in the 38th minute, the onrushing Pulisic burst through the white shirt thickets and scored what proved to be the winner as it slid into the Iran keeper. Pulisic then lay in the goalmouth for almost four minutes.

He was taken to the hospital part-time due to dizziness and received a preventive abdominal scan. But once the US held off a thrilling Iran strike late in the second half, confirming their progress to the knockout stage and a date with the Netherlands on Saturday, the fallen winger joined the bustling locker room celebrations during FaceTime and is back. at the team's hotel by the time they arrived. US Soccer later said Pulisic was "everyday" and had suffered a "hip contusion".

"Christian made that run," US manager Gregg Berhalter said after the game. “That's what he does. That's the special quality he has. As soon as the ball goes wide he goes with intensity into the box and good things happen and you score. We've seen at Chelsea he's scored a number of goals with the same type of runs. He breaks into the box and makes it difficult for defenders with his change of pace."

The 24-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania, remains the frontman of the romper space touted as America's golden generation. More than half of Berhalter's 26 players compete in the world's top five leagues, including Pulisic (Chelsea), Dest (Milan), McKennie (Juventus) and captain Tyler Adams (Leeds United). It's a setup designed at least in part for the next World Cup, when the US will co-host and today's starting line-up will be in prime position, even if Berhalter balks at the idea. "We want to build a ton of momentum going into 2026," he said last week. "But it all starts now."

And how. Berhalter has selected the three youngest lineups from all the matches played in Qatar and Tuesday was the youngest with an average age of under 25: the first American team in a World Cup in which all 11 starters have appeared for European clubs. Each of them levels up on a night when the thorny political underpinnings are uncomfortably pushed to the fore. The atmosphere in and around many of the stadiums at Qatar's World Cup was oddly flat. That wasn't the case on Tuesday, so far it almost feels like a different tournament altogether. It was clear outside Al Thumama Stadium more than three hours before kickoff that the US fans would be outnumbered by the Iranians and the many neutrals brought into their ranks. They turned the 44,400-seat venue into a cauldron of noise: a neutral venue in name only.

A draw with Wales that felt like a defeat and another with England that felt like a win, the United States will always face a tough climb in the group stage, needing three points against Asia's highest-ranked side. Iran will almost certainly progress with a draw, meaning they can pack players behind the ball in the kind of low blocks the United States has consistently struggled with. But the hostile roars and cacophony of deafening vuvuzelas and drums make it that much harder. Welcome to Great Satan v Iran II, a quarter century rematch in the making.

The first half hour lasted on a knife edge, with the threat of counter-attacks from Iranian striking pair Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi overshadowing the US team's promising start, but the Americans were not impressed by the opportunity. Itinerant Adams took command of midfield. McKennie put together the lung-busting box-to-box run that has become his calling card. The extraordinary Yunah Musah, celebrating her 20th birthday, dribbled out of the pressure and fearlessly dashed towards the defenders.

By the 35th minute they had peppered Iran's goal with as many shots as they had in all Wales, but the agita improved with every missed finishing touch. Until then. For all the precocious talent in their ranks – so young and ambitious, unscathed by failure, with the perfect mix of confidence and humility – Pulisic remains a leader; when he left, so did the Americans. It's no coincidence the US team has won eight straight games in which he has scored.

"What I saw from the group was incredible focus, especially going into the game: you could tell they were locked out," said Berhalter. “The end of the game is really the thing I'm most proud of because it was a sign of determination and extreme effort and resilience to just hang in there and get the win and not give up. You know, it was the first time in 92 years that we had two World Cup shutouts, so the boys did something right.

This is the fifth time the United States have reached the knockout stages since 1994 – which put them in some elite company – but this one is far more meaningful after a dismal bottom five years ago when they failed to qualify for Russia with a crushing defeat in Trinidad. & Tobago. Pulisic is one of only four survivors from that traumatic night in Couva and the wait has certainly made his maiden World Cup goal that much sweeter.

And now? The Americans enter the business end of the tournament with confidence, wanting a goal but yet to concede from open play. Berhalter, who will forever be remembered by fans as the player whose left foot nearly took the US to the semifinals in 2002, is confident this team can follow that path.

“From here, anything can happen,” said Berhalter. “What we need to do is play one game at a time and not even have to project how far this team can go, because the next game is against the Netherlands and that is our main focus. It's great to be in this knockout format. We enjoyed this. This is an opportunity for our people to keep working hard and stick together and enjoy this experience.”

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