Fittingly, it took “Captain America’’ to save America on Tuesday in Qatar.
He gave up his body — and risked possibly the rest of his World Cup — to do it.
Christian Pulisic, the dynamic and indispensable 24-year-old American midfielder, kicked U.S. soccer into the knockout round of 16 with the only goal of a taut 1-0 U.S. victory over Iran in the third and final Group B match that America had to win outright or go home.
Pulisic didn’t even get to witness live the finished product of the biggest victory for U.S. soccer in eight years, because he suffered an abdominal injury while scoring the goal after crashing into Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and taking a knee to his midsection.
He was brought to an area hospital for observation while his teammates hung on for dear life in a tense second half.
About an hour after the match, Pulisic tweeted a picture of himself in a hospital bed with the message: “So f–king proud of my guys. I’ll be ready Saturday don’t worry.’’ That was by followed by four emojis of hands clasped in prayer and three hearts.
The Pulisic goal was symbolic of the end result, because he gave up his body to get to a Sergiño Dest cross on front of the goal in the 38th minute.
That hellbent Pulisic effort — his body be damned — was emblematic of the way the U.S. played this match from the opening kickoff in that it was all about advancing out of the group stage at whatever cost.
The pressure in this match was excruciating.
It was that way all day — right into the agonizing 100th minute of the match with the American players, gassed from giving everything they had and from the stress that came with trying to hold onto the most important lead they’ve ever held in their soccer lives.