Sport

QATAR 2022

US lauds wounded hero Christian Pulisic for getting them into last 16

US lauds wounded hero Christian Pulisic for getting them into last 16
Christian Pulisic of the US scores their first goal past Iran's Alireza Beiranvand at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Tuesday. (Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)

The US booked their place in the last 16 of the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar thanks to a Christian Pulisic goal. But the star spent the night in hospital as a result.

Christian Pulisic was hailed by his teammates on Tuesday after his first-half strike sent the US through to the World Cup knockout rounds, with the effort landing him in hospital with an abdominal injury.

The Chelsea forward burst into the area and bundled the ball over the line in the 38th minute of Tuesday’s Group B decider against Iran. But he could not even celebrate the goal because he had injured himself following a collision with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.

Coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed Pulisic was injured and sent to hospital as a precaution after feeling dizzy, and said the players had a short video call with him from the dressing room.

“We got to speak to him and he’s in good spirits,” Berhalter told a news conference.

“That’s what he does, that’s the special quality he has and as soon as a goal is wide he goes in with intensity. He crashes the box and makes it really difficult for defenders with his change of pace.”

Christian Pulisic grimaces in pain after scoring for the US against Iran. (Photo: Alex Grimm / Getty Images)

The US join Group B rival England in advancing to the round of 16, fielding what was the national team’s youngest starting 11 yet, in a must-win match against a physically tough Iran side.

There was no official news of Pulisic’s availability for Saturday’s round-of-16 match against Group A winners Netherlands, but US midfielder Weston McKennie said Pulisic had told him he would be ready.

“I sent him a text and checked on him, and he said, ‘Best believe I’ll be ready on Saturday’,” ESPN quoted McKennie as saying.

McKennie praised Pulisic’s bravery but said the team were like brothers and any of them would have done the same.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Ghana’s Black Stars shine in Qatar – against all odds

“Obviously we’re very thankful that he threw his body there, but the thing is we have 25 other guys aside from Christian who would do the same thing, I believe,” he said. Seeing his willingness to “throw his body on the line”, he added, “that should tell you enough about how close this team is”.

The US dominated the match but came under pressure late in the game and had to defend resolutely as Iran fought desperately to get an equaliser that would have sent them through to the last 16 for the first time.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said they deserved to score against the US. (Photo: Amin Mohammad Jamali / Getty Images)

US forward Tim Weah said qualification was the stuff of dreams for the young US team and commended the determination of Pulisic, who was in the side that failed to qualify for the World Cup four years ago.

“We love and we thank him and we’re through, so it’s a great feeling,” he said.

“He’s huge. Going back, him not qualifying for the last World Cup and then being here and qualifying us through, that’s the work of God and I love him. He’s so important to this team, he’s a key player, a leader and someone that we definitely need.”

‘Gods bless those who score’

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said his team deserved at least a draw against the US after defeat ended the side’s dreams at the World Cup.

“Football gods bless those who score goals, and unfortunately we didn’t score,” Queiroz told a news conference.

“I said before the match that the United States were the most consistent team in the first two games,” he added, referring to their draws with Wales and England, who qualified as group winners after beating the Welsh 3-0.

Referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz speaks to Iran coach Carlos Queiroz during their Group B clash against the US. (Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

“The United States started the match as they did against Wales and England, and they were better than us, more ferocious and faster, and scored a goal, and I was not surprised by that.

“But in the second half the situation changed and we took possession of the ball and created more chances than the United States did in the first half and we deserved to score at least a goal.

“The United States players have the speed and if I may say when you play against Ferraris you need to close the highway, and that’s what we did after the break and we were the better team.”

Ramin Rezaeian (left) of Iran fights for the ball with the US’ Antonee Robinson. (Photo: Khalil Bashar / Jam Media / Getty Images)

Yunus Musah of the US competes in the air against Saeid Ezatolahi of Iran. (Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)

The Portuguese coach praised his players for their commitment and efforts in training and matches.

“We train in an atmosphere that is not comparable to other teams, but when I work with the players on a daily basis they show enthusiasm and desire to represent Iran,” he said.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Why so much stoppage time is being added to World Cup 2022 matches

Queiroz, who returned to coach Iran for a second stint last September, declined to talk about the last play of the match in which Iran’s players demanded a penalty.

Striker Mehdi Taremi went down in the area as defender Cameron Carter-Vickers tried to stop him and Iran’s players surrounded the referee, but their protests were waved away.

Brenden Aaronson of the US and Iran’s Majid Hosseini battle for the ball. (Photo: Etsuo Hara / Getty Images)

“I have not seen a replay of it yet, but talking about it now is senseless. The United States reached the last 16, and this will not change anything. Life will go on and there are other matches to come.”

Fans praise US team

Relief and utter joy washed over American fans after the US shockingly failed to reach the 2018 tournament.

The US are four years away from co-hosting the quadrennial with Canada and Mexico, and watching “Captain America” Christian Pulisic bundle the ball home on Tuesday, fans said their team showed they belong on soccer’s biggest stage.

“This (victory) means we have an official international presence,” said 34-year-old real estate investor Mark Allison, who watched the match on a giant outdoor television at Park 101 bar and restaurant in Carlsbad, California.

“The next 10 years for US soccer has a bright future. I’ve never seen so many USA fans for soccer ever until now. The US coming together and uniting as a country, despite all the chaos in the world, is a beautiful thing.”

 

 

US President Joe Biden, who had just wrapped up remarks at an economic event in Michigan and was speaking to people in the audience, got back on the microphone on stage as soon as the game ended.

“USA, USA, that’s a big game, man,” he said. “When I spoke to the coach and the players, I said, ‘You can do this’. They went ‘eh’. They did it, God love ‘em. Anyway, just thought you might want to hear.”

Watching the game at Fire Pitch in Chicago, Faith Enenbach (30) said Tuesday’s win was a satisfying reward for eight years of waiting to see her country back in the World Cup.

“People are hungry for this,” she said. “We didn’t make the World Cup the last time and now to be advancing forward is just huge.” DM/Reuters

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