The U.S. beat Iran, 1-0, in a widely watched match at the Qatar World Cup, keeping the American team’s dreams of redemption alive.
Iran has never made it to the knockout round, where the initial 32 World Cup teams are halved to just 16. The U.S. men’s team has, but making it to the next step is a huge goal as the team failed to even qualify for the last World Cup four years ago.
The U.S. had to beat Iran to advance to the Round of 16. The Americans next face the Netherlands on Saturday.
Iran had to just tie in order to move on after beating Wales 2-0 earlier on in the competition.
Tuesday’s match was widely watched given tense U.S.-Iran relations, the larger tournament implications for both teams, and the conflicts surrounding the ongoing human rights protest movement in Iran that have spilled over in Qatar.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in protest since Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died in police custody. Her death and the subsequent protests since are the biggest challenge to the authoritarian regime since 1979’s Islamic Revolution.
Officials and bystanders were also monitoring for possible confrontations between U.S. and Iranian fans as well as between pro-government Iranian fans and those in support of the protest movement at home. Earlier in the tournament, pro-government fans reportedly harassed protesters outside one of the stadiums.
Groups of good-natured U.S. and Iranian fans chanted at each other ahead of the game outside Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday. A heavy security presence made itself known to fans entering to watch the game in person and likely discouraged any conflicts.
The stadium’s roughly 44,000 fans filled the air with a cacophony of noise and cheers as soon as the match commenced, making it feel as though there were twice as many people in attendance.
Right around the game’s 38th minute, the U.S. team’s Christian Pulisic put the Americans up by one with the game’s only goal, charging (quite literally) into the net and sacrificing his own body in the process. The crowd was momentarily bolstered by the goal, but quieted as Pulisic struggled to get up and was eventually helped off the field.
He was out the rest of the game with an abdominal injury and replaced by Brenden Aaronson.
NPR’s Tom Goldman is reporting from Doha, Qatar.