DOHA, Qatar – Christian Pulisic was hailed by his teammates after his first-half strike sent the United States through to the World Cup knockout rounds, with the effort landing him in hospital with an abdominal injury on Tuesday, November 29 (Wednesday, November 30, Manila time).
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 as he had injured himself following a collision with Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
Coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed Pulisic was injured and sent to the 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.”
The United States join Group B rival England in advancing to the round of 16, fielding what was the national team’s youngest ever starting 11 in a must-win match against a physically tough Iran side.
There was no official news of Pulisic’s availability for Saturday’s match with 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 players were like brothers and any of them would have done the same.
“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.
“You see the stature Christian has and that he’s willing to throw his body on the line. That should tell you enough about how close this team is.”
The United States dominated the match but came under pressure late in the game and had to defend resolutely as Iran fought desperately to get an equalizer that would have sent them through to the last 16 for the first time.
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.”
The United States’ triumph on the pitch over longtime political adversary Iran was overshadowed by protests raging in Iran and laced with decades of tension between the two countries.
The contest in Qatar between the two nations, which severed diplomatic ties more than 40 years ago, took place under increased security to prevent a flare-up over the anti-government protests across Iran since the death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16.
Qatar, which has strong ties with Washington and friendly relations with Tehran, has staked its reputation on delivering a smooth World Cup, beefing up security at Iran games and banning some items deemed inflammatory, such as Iran’s pre-1979 Islamic revolution flag.
Extra security personnel, some mounted on horseback, patrolled outside the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha before the match while guards at the perimeter made Iranians unfurl their flags before entering. Police were stationed throughout the stadium alongside regular security guards. Some carried batons.
Early in the second half, a group of fans briefly held up letters spelling Mahsa Amini’s name, to applause from Iranian supporters around them. Security personnel took their signs but allowed them to remain in their seats.
A Qatari official said before the match that authorities would ensure all matches were “safe and welcoming for all spectators”. Items that “could increase tensions and risk the safety of fans” would not be permitted.
US-Iranian tensions have worsened since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump abandoned an international nuclear deal with Iran. Attempts by President Joe Biden’s administration to revive the 2015 accord have stalled.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Romania, played down any link between the match and political tensions and said he hoped the game would “speak for itself.” – Rappler.com