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After defeating Iran, U.S. men's team heads to the World Cup knockout round

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. men's national soccer team is headed for the World Cup knockout round for the first time since 2014. The U.S. advanced on a win over Iran and fans celebrated at a watch party in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I was never worried. I knew that we were going to pull it out in the end.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It was exciting watching with all these people, seeing everybody come out in the middle of a workday.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Netherlands - next victim, huge team. U.S.A. can do it, man. They're playing with passion. They're playing with heart. And they can do it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: If we make it out past the Netherlands, round of 8, big step. Bring on the Netherlands. Bring on the Netherlands. I'm not worried. I'm not worried.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.

INSKEEP: Bring on the Netherlands - one of the sentiments from the United States where people were watching. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman was watching at the World Cup in Qatar. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What was it like there?

GOLDMAN: Crazy, Steve. I went to Argentina versus Mexico last week. And the attendance was nearly 90,000. But last night's crowd, with a little over 42,000 there, sounded louder. There was so much buildup, so much about soccer and politics. The din was something I had never heard before. When kickoff happened, I literally could not hear myself talk. It was extraordinary intensity.

INSKEEP: Wow. Not being able to hear Tom Goldman talk, that could be actually a problem. But fortunately, we can hear you now talking about Christian Pulisic, who scored the one goal in the whole game and was injured while doing it, what happened?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, for those who saw the play know that he came streaking in, took the ball on one hop and kicked it in for his score. His momentum carried him into this collision with the Iranian goalkeeper. And he was down for several minutes in obvious pain. The official word was a pelvic contusion and that he's day-to-day. But there's this great photo of him in a hospital bed, right arm raised, fist clenched with the message, so proud of my guys. I'll be ready Saturday. Don't worry - Saturday being the next big match in the knockout round against the Netherlands.

INSKEEP: How did the defense keep the Iranians at zero?

GOLDMAN: With poise and grit, kind of like the way you host MORNING EDITION, Steve. A one-goal...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Are you telling me this is a low-scoring program? No. Go on, please. Proceed. Proceed.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) A one-goal lead is...

INSKEEP: We fight hard. We fight hard. We do the technical things right. Go on. Go on. Go on.

GOLDMAN: You got grit. You got grit. A one-goal lead is very precarious. And if Americans gave up one goal, a drum, and they'd be out of the World Cup. But U.S. defenders stayed calm. And when Iran ramped up its offensive attack near the end - we need to give a shout out to Walker Zimmerman. His World Cup had been sullied by the foul he committed in the first game versus Wales, which led to a successful penalty kick by Wales that turned what looked like was going to be a U.S. win into a draw. That stung. So last night, when Iran is bringing the heat late, U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner makes a play on a shot attempt. He gets tangled with the Iranian player and the ball skirts through his legs. It's headed for the U.S. goal. Oh, my God, a heart and throat moment for the U.S. But suddenly, Walker Zimmerman zooms in, clears the ball, saves the Americans and gets redemption in the process.

INSKEEP: So I want to ask about the Iranian team. Of course, the Americans we heard at the beginning there were cheering for the United States, as you would expect. And yet, there's a lot of sympathy in America and elsewhere for that particular team right now. What does the loss mean for Iran?

GOLDMAN: Well, it means they're out. They needed just to draw to advance and make the round of 16 for the first time ever at a World Cup - but not to be. Such a difficult World Cup for them as the terrible troubles going on in Iran for the past couple of months followed the team and its fans to Qatar. The team was caught between wanting to support those protesting the ongoing Iranian government crackdown and being threatened not to do it, so very difficult. And at the end, the Iranian team wasn't able to use football as a way to rise above all that.

INSKEEP: Although, they did speak out at times. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman in Qatar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.