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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

USA wins Iran showdown to reach last 16

The United States beat Iran 1-0 in a battle of geopolitical foes to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup on Tuesday while England eased through against Wales. The Americans earned a second-round meeting with the Netherlands after Christian Pulisic bundled the ball into the net in the 38th minute of an absorbing contest in Doha. Only the third international meeting of the bitter ideological rivals had been marked by a bad-tempered buildup.


Iran's Football Federation had on Sunday demanded that FIFA punish US Soccer for posting a modified version of their country's flag on social media.


Meanwhile the Iran team's every move in Qatar has been scrutinized for signs the players are showing support for mass anti-government protests that have shaken the Islamic republic.


On Tuesday, having opted not to do so in their opening match, the Iranian players did sing the national anthem, albeit without much enthusiasm, in the highly-charged atmosphere of the Al Thumama Stadium. There was nothing half-hearted about the Iranians' performance though, but the Americans deserved winners after digging deep for the victory. "The guys grinded gave every single ounce and we are undefeated going into the next round," USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. Iran substitute Saman Ghoddos wasted two clear scoring opportunities. "The dream is over," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said.


"Unfortunately football always punishes the team that doesn't score." Reflecting the fact that the game was about more than sport, US President Joe Biden had wrapped up a speech on the economy in Michigan, but returned to the stage to tell the crowd: "The US one, Iran zero! The game's over!"


- England end Welsh challenge - England's task was easier, as they swept past Wales 3-0 to win Group B and set up a meeting with Senegal on Sunday. After an uneventful first half in the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden pounced in the space of two second-half minutes to effectively end the contest. Manchester United forward Rashford then added his second goal of the night to ensure Wales' first involvement in a World Cup finals since 1958 ended in disappointment. "This is what I play football for, the biggest moments, the best moments," Rashford said.


"I'm really happy today that we're going through to the next round. I have massive ambition for this team and think we can play even better than we showed today." The Netherlands cruised into the last 16 with a comfortable 2-0 win over already-eliminated Qatar to win Group A. Cody Gakpo netted his third goal of the tournament and Frenkie de Jong scored the other as the Dutch easily beat the host nation at Al Bayt Stadium.


There was more excitement at the Khalifa International Stadium where Kalidou Koulibaly's first goal for Senegal pushed his country to a 2-1 win over Ecuador and a place in the knockout phase for just the second time in their history.


The Chelsea defender's 70th-minute strike eliminated the South Americans, who had only needed a draw to go through, and made Senegal the first African side to progress from the group stage so far in this tournament. Meanwhile, an Italian man who ran onto the pitch during Monday's game between Portugal and Uruguay carrying a rainbow flag was released following a brief detention.


The man identified as Mario Ferri also wore a T-shirt with the words "Respect for Iranian Woman" on the back and "Save Ukraine" on the front. Ferri said on Instagram: "FIFA banned rainbow captain's armbands and human rights flags in the stands, they blocked everyone, BUT NOT ME." Ferri has staged similar protests before, including at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where he raised the issue of children living in poverty.


Gareth Southgate saluted Marcus Rashford after England forward maintained his renaissance by firing his country into the World Cup last 16 with a double in their 3-0 win against Wales on Tuesday. Rashford put England on course for a last-16 clash with Senegal on Sunday as his superb free-kick broke the deadlock at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.


Phil Foden doubled England's lead just seconds later and Rashford netted again to ensure Gareth Southgate's side finished on top of Group B. It was an emotional night for Rashford, who celebrated one of his goals by pointing to the sky in tribute to a friend who recently passed away.


"I lost one of my friends a couple of days ago. He had quite a long battle with cancer. I'm pleased I scored for him, he was a big supporter and a good friend of mine. He was someone who came into my life," Rashford said. Southgate was unaware of the reason behind Rashford's celebration until after the match, but the heartfelt tribute only added to the England manager's admiration for the 25-year-old.


Rashford was vilified by a section of England's fanbase after missing a spot-kick in last year's penalty shoot-out defeat against Italy in the European Championship final. The Manchester United star, one of three England players who failed to score their penalty in that agonizing shoot-out, received racist abuse on social media in the immediate aftermath of the Wembley loss. Rashford's form for United dipped dramatically last season and for a while it seemed he could be sold. But United manager Erik ten Hag has revitalized Rashford since taking charge in the close season and his club form had been impressive heading into the World Cup. "It's been a challenge for him. I went and saw him in the summer. I had a long chat with him," Southgate said. "He had some clear ideas on things that he needed to think about. You can see with his club there has been happy with his performances.


"You can see that in training with us. We have got a completely different player than we had at the Euros last year. It's great for him and great for us."


Rashford was making his first start of this World Cup after replacing Raheem Sterling and he now has three goals in the tournament, having scored as a substitute in the 6-2 thrashing of Iran. Together with Phil Foden, also making his maiden start in the tournament, Rashford helped unlock the massed Wales defense, in the process banishing the angst that followed England's drab goalless draw with the United States in their previous match. England's nine goals so far at this World Cup are the most they have scored in the group stages at a major tournament, a statistic that Southgate was encouraged by as he looks ahead to the latter stages. "It's competition for places.


Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly said on Tuesday he never gave up hope of reaching the World Cup knockouts when star striker Sadio Mane was ruled out, even if most of the world doubted them. Koulibaly's second-half goal was the difference as Senegal beat Ecuador 2-1 to book a spot in the last 16 for only the second time in their history. The Chelsea defender was named man-of-the-match and dedicated the win to Mane, who was forced out of the tournament with a knee injury picked up with club side Bayern Munich. "When it came to his injury, I think two-thirds of the world probably doubted we would be able to qualify," Koulibaly told the post-match press conference. "The only ones who thought we could still qualify were the African people and the Senegalese people." Koulibaly, whose goal was his first in 67 appearances for Senegal, revealed his side had been inspired by a pre-game message from Mane. "He sent us a message before the game. Even though he is not here (in Qatar), he is with us."


The 31-year-old defender said he needed to take a leading role when news of the former Liverpool striker's injury was confirmed. "I couldn't believe it when I heard about his injury. I knew there would be a lot more pressure, but we are a team," he said. "Yes, Sadio is a star -- he is a symbol of the Senegalese football team -- but there are 11 players on a football field. "This is their time to shine". Manager Aliou Cisse said during the week that Mane was "here with us" and regularly contacted several members of the squad. Normally cool and calm, manager Cisse showed rare emotion after Koulibaly's winner, screaming with delight on the touchline. "Yes, it was something that was very important for us. It was a goal that sealed our spot in the Round of 16. "It was exhilarating. Football is an emotional game... football is a beautiful game." Like Koulibaly, Cisse dedicated the win to Senegalese midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, who died two years aged just 42, but added "we could also dedicate this victory to lots of other people". Diop scored the only goal as they stunned then-world champions France 1-0 at the 2002 World Cup on their way to a quarter-final appearance, which remains the furthest an African team has progressed at a World Cup.


Qatar completed a miserable World Cup campaign with a 2-0 defeat against the Netherlands on Tuesday and bow out of their own tournament with the worst ever performance by a host nation. The Gulf state has spent a reported $200 billion on this World Cup, while its team are the reigning continental champions after winning the Asian Cup in 2019.


But the decision to isolate the squad for months in a training camp in the run-up to the tournament, rather than have them play competitive games, backfired badly on coach Felix Sanchez and his side.


Qatar was the first team to be eliminated from the competition when they lost 3-1 to Senegal in their second match, following a 2-0 defeat to Ecuador in the tournament's opening game. Tuesday's result means they go out without a point and just one goal scored.


They are only the second World Cup host nation to fail to make it out of the group stage, following South Africa in 2010.


Yet South Africa took four points from three group games, drawing with Mexico and beating France but only failing to qualify for the last 16 on goal difference.


Every other host nation over the 22 World Cups going back to the first tournament in 1930 has reached the next phase, although in 2002 co-hosts Japan lost in the last 16, as did the United States in 1994.


The host nation has won the World Cup six times, most recently France in 1998, and been the runner-up twice.


Past performances by World Cup host nations:


2018: Russia quarter-finals


2014: Brazil finished fourth


2010: South Africa eliminated in the group stage


2006: Germany finished third


2002: South Korea finished fourth; Japan lost in the last 16


1998: France winners


1994: USA lost in the last 16


1990: Italy finished third


1986: Mexico lost in the quarter-finals


1982: Spain eliminated in the second group stage


1978: Argentina winners


1974: West Germany winners


1970: Mexico lost in the quarter-finals


1966: England winners


1962: Chile finished third


1958: Sweden runners-up


1954: Switzerland lost in the quarter-finals


1950: Brazil runners-up


1938: France lost in the quarter-finals


1934: Italy winners


1930: Uruguay winners


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