For the regime in Tehran, another victory over the United States on Tuesday would have held immense value, a point of national prestige that it could have claimed as its own.
For the protesters, Iran’s continued presence at the world’s biggest sporting event would have meant more days in the spotlight, more focus on their country and their cause, more chances to jeer the government in subtle — and vocal — ways inside stadiums. Some hoped that celebrations of an Iranian win would morph into another round of demonstrations.
Instead, at Shahrak Ekbatan, a vast apartment complex in central Tehran that has been a hotbed of nightly protests and violent clashes, people cheered and celebrated Iran’s defeat, according to a resident and videos posted on social media.
It may have proved too much weight to bear for the Iranian squad. Unlike the United States, Iran has never advanced out of the first round at a World Cup. Its team, long a symbol of unity in a persistently divided nation, had needed only a tie to advance. Its tournament had been a roller-coaster: a thumping at the hands of England, a last-minute win over Wales, and a showdown against the young American team.
The Iranian players held their own against the Americans’ repeated thrusts and, after Pulisic’s goal separated the teams, pushed repeatedly for the tying goal they knew would carry them through.
The math on Tuesday was not a secret: England led the group going into its final two games. When England took a lead over Wales in the other game across the city, moving into position to win the group, both Iran and the United States narrowed their eyes and set their sights on second place, and the group’s other place in the knockout rounds.
By then the Americans were ahead. The goal had come off a sequence of incisive passes in the 38th minute: midfielder Weston McKennie picking out a sprinting Sergiño Dest racing up the right wing, and Dest delivering a perfect skidding cross to Pulisic, who had read what was coming and come charging at the goal. He arrived just in time to redirect the ball past the goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand, but their forceful collision left Pulisic lying in the net for several minutes.