Team USA players share emotional embrace with Iran’s Saeid Ezatolahi

Doha, Qatar – Said Ezatolahi wept.

He gave everything, and this time it wasn’t enough. When the final whistle at Al Thumama Stadium signaled a 1-0 victory for the United States, there was nothing left for the Iran defensive midfielder to do. So, he sat on the turf, deep in the Qatari night, buried his head in his hands and let the tears melt.

Seconds later, he felt a large arm around his shoulder. It was Josh Sargent, the USA forward, who touched him in the first half, in which the Americans were desperately chasing a goal until one came after 38 minutes through Christian Pulisic.

Sargent knelt next to Eztalahi, hugged him and offered some words of kindness and sympathy. Shortly after, the American representative Brenden Aaronson noticed the scene, saw the fear on the face of the Iranian player and also approached. Like DeAndre Yedlin.

Tim Weah joined them. As he approached, Veh’s face changed from beaming pleasure to something more solemn. As Eztalhi tried to pull himself together, Veh took him by the hands and pulled him to his feet, before hugging him and whispering in his ear.

“I think it’s more than just football,” Weah told me, as he left the stadium to return to the team’s Doha headquarters. “I think that the United States and Iran have had so many issues politically, and I just wanted to show that we are all people and we love each other.

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“I just wanted to spread peace and love and show him that we come from different backgrounds, we grew up differently. He’s still my family, he’s still my brother and I love him just like the boys I grew up with. ”

Unless you’ve been camping, hibernating or technology detoxing for the past week, chances are you’ve noticed the depth of the political subplot surrounding the Iran clash that ultimately decided second place in Group B and sent Gregg Berhalter’s side into the round of 16 Meeting with the Netherlands.

But whatever the discussions during the week, how many questions players have to answer that has nothing to do with the sport of soccer, the Americans recognized the pain of defeat. They’ve felt it, more times than they care to remember.

Just not on a stage like this, not yet at least.

“I could feel the emotion from him on the ground,” Aaronson said. “It’s difficult, it’s a difficult moment for a lot of things. You put your heart and soul and I think he also had a great game, and a great tournament from Iran. It’s hard to see that from a player. All You want to do is go and comfort them and tell them everything is going to be okay. It’s just a human thing.”

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Aaronson, Weah and Sargent are all 22 years old. None of them had met Eztalahi before. The United States should be proud of its men’s soccer team for what it did during Tuesday night’s win-or-go-home triumph. And, perhaps even more so, for what it did afterwards.

They are not the only three to offer some comfort. There were handshakes all round before the team headed to the locker room, as well as a few pats on the back. Ezatolahi received more attention from the Americans because he was so visibly devastated. He had a club career that took him to Russia and Denmark and the Qatari League. He felt, quite reasonably, that the current generation of the Iranian team has a unique opportunity to achieve something special.

For Sargent, seeing Eztalahi’s tears made a lump in his throat, and his own feeling was wanting. Even talking about it later, his voice cracked a little, and he will remember that part of the night as much as anything that happened in a frenetic 90 minutes.

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“I just really feel for any team,” Sargent told me. “Obviously it’s a big tournament, no matter who it was, to see people so upset touches me in a different way. It was on my way to where the team was anyway, so I thought I’d say something Nice and encouraging.

“Everybody’s human, obviously. We’ve all worked our a**it off to get to this important point in our lives. This is the pinnacle of everybody’s career. I know it’s not an easy situation when you lose. “

And so ends the whirlwind World Cup chapter for the Americans, with the knockout rounds providing a fresh new opportunity. In many ways it is a completely new tournament, both in format and pacing.

They continue to have shown resilience and determination, valuable attributes for any athlete in the biggest competition of their career.

And a side of compassion, too, that may not win games — but deserves our applause nonetheless.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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