Weston McKennie celebrates against Iran

Weston McKennie celebrates for U.S.A. against Iran [PHOTO: beINSPORTSUSA Twitter]

The USA utilised their strengths to defeat Iran in Group B, as they progressed to the Round of 16 at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Iran and the USA faced off in what was essentially a winner-takes-all battle to decide who would be going through between the two nations.

Iran headed into the match with three points in second in the group, while the USA had two points in third. England ahead of them had four points while Wales were behind them on one point as they battled in the other match.

A win or a draw for Iran would have seen them through to the Round of 16 for the first time in their history. Meanwhile, for the USA, anything but a win would end their 2022 World Cup hopes.

Iran had a change in goal, as Alireza Beiranvand came in for Hossein Hosseini after the former suffered a head clash with a teammate in the opening match. They stuck with their usual 4-4-2 formation for this match.

The USA made two changes, as Cameron Carter-Vickers came in at centre-half for Walker Zimmerman, while a change in attack saw Joshua Sargent replace Haji Wright. They lined up in their familiar 4-3-3 formation.

A noisy crowd was in attendance to witness this all-or-nothing clash.

Both sides emphasised calmness early, particularly the USA as they looked to hold the ball. However, Iran also had their periods of possession without troubling the USA defence.

Iran looked to keep their shape and opted not to press early, instead they wanted to cut passing lanes and stop the USA from playing balls through to their forwards.

Likewise, in attack, Iran did not commit too many bodies forward and wanted to keep their shape across the pitch.

The Americans looked to attack as they hit Iran with long balls on the counter to utilise their pace in behind. They also looked to push their fullbacks up high to create an overload and width in attack.

Sergiño Dest’s heat map again Iran [SOURCE: Sofascore]

Timothy Weah had a tame header saved by Beiranvand in the 28th minute as the USA continued to probe for a goal.

He again had another attempt on goal, as a pass played to him from Sargent saw him attempt a shot which flew over the crossbar.

The USA continued their pressure through weight of possession and made it count, as Sergiño Dest got in behind the Iranian defence. He got on the end of a lofted ball in behind which he headed towards Christian Pulisic in the middle, who bravely slotted the ball home on his right foot.

The game plan for the Americans had payed off as the Chelsea man scored his first goal in the FIFA World Cup Finals.

The USA looked to employ that same tactic from kickoff to catch out Iran again. Sargent got on the end of another lofted ball in behind, however, his shot rolled across the face of goal.

Weah thought he had doubled the American’s advantage as he made a darting run in behind Iran’s defence before he slid the ball into the bottom-right corner of the goal. However, he was flagged for offside, the final action of the half as the USA led Iran 1-0 going into the break.

Pulisic was subbed off at half-time due to an injury he picked up while scoring the goal, colliding with multiple players on the goal line and limping off the pitch.

Shortly into the second half, England took a 2-0 lead over Wales, which meant this match became an all-or-nothing shootout between the two nations.

The Americans had utilised their pace to trouble the Iranian defence while they also used it to get the ball up the field.

Iran’s first shot of the match came in the 52nd minute as they looked for an avenue back into the match. A ball was played in towards half-time substitute Saman Ghoddos in the box. However, pressure from Dest forced him to head the ball wide.

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They continued knocking away at the USA defence, as Ghoddos had another attempt which flew just wide of the right-hand post.

Iran were having the better of the second half, including more possession, before Yunus Musah shot a free kick over the crossbar for the USA.

The match sat on the edge as the next goal in the match would prove vital.

Injuries, stoppages and substitutes slowed the match down, which suited the USA as the game entered the final 15 minutes of regulation time. Iran fizzed a ball into the box which Ali Karimi was unable to get on the end of properly, as Matt Turner made an important claim.

The U.S.A. switched to a five-at-the-back late as they looked to close out the match, utilising their game management to slow the match down whenever possible to negate Iran and defend their 1-0 lead.

Their midfield managed the match from the beginning to control proceedings and stopped Iran from getting a proper foothold in the contest.

There were nine minutes added on to the end of the match, which added to the tension on and around the pitch. Iran were inches away from scoring the equaliser as Morteza Pouraliganji‘s header from a free kick flew just wide of the left-hand upright.

Iran had late shouts for a penalty as another dangerous ball was played into the box. However, the referee waved those late shouts away.

That was the final meaningful action of the match, as Iran exited at the hands of the USA, who were brave and fought until the end to hold on to their lead and progress in second place in Group B.

The Americans had executed their game plan perfectly to score, utilising their quality, passing range and speed in behind to score. They then managed the game well to hold off a fast-finishing and desperate Iran side late who threw everything at them late.

The USA made the Round of 16 for the sixth time in their history and the first time since 2014, where they will face the Netherlands.

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