DOHA: There always is a tipping point.
For Iran, it came in the 38th minute at the Al Thumama stadium on a night which started with so much promise, but ended in so much pain.
Christian Pulisic - the man American fans call “Captain America” - bundled home a tap-in to give the United States a 1-0 win and seal their progress to the round of 16.
Iran, who only needed a draw as England beat Wales 3-0 in the other group game played on Tuesday (Nov 29), are now headed home after a tumultuous tournament.
No team has had to grapple with the inevitable coalescing of sports and politics at this World Cup more than this Iranian side.
A popular revolt sparked by the death of young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for flouting Iran's strict Islamic dress code has gripped the country for more than two months. Since then, dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters.
It was amid this backdrop that the Iranian players stayed silent throughout the course of their national anthem in their opening match against England last week.
However, most players mumbled through the anthem ahead of their second match against Wales, and some did the same against the United States.
In a show of solidarity ahead of the match, the US Soccer Federation temporarily displayed Iran's national flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, leading Tehran to complain to FIFA, according to state media.
The United States and Iran severed formal relations in 1980 and ties were hostile when they met at the 1998 World Cup.
Iran ran out 2-1 winners then, courtesy of goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia, in a victory which was Iran’s first win at a World Cup.
Fast forward 24 years, and while the ties were no longer as strained, the stakes were as high – perhaps even higher.
Egged on by air horns and painted faces of red, white and green that were already whipped into a fevered frenzy before the opening whistle, Iran looked to soak up the pressure.
But Gregg Berhalter’s young side showed no sign of being overawed by their opponents or the occasion and chances fell the way of Yunus Musah and Pulisic.
In the cacophonous cauldron of noise, the Americans would pin the Iranians back.
Close to the half hour mark, Timothy Weah planted a header into the grateful arms of Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, then thrashed a shot over minutes after.
Queiroz cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as his side struggled to string the passes needed for a coherent counter.
And the Americans made them pay. A hanging ball into the box found the onrushing Serginio Dest, and his cushioned header was finished by Christian Pulisic.
But the goal came at a cost, as Pulisic hobbled off after being clattered while scoring. He did not feature in the second half.
Weah had the ball in the net just before halftime, but he was offside.
Iran created their best chance of the match in the 51st minute, but substitute Saman Ghoddos’ header looped over.
Ghoddos got an even better chance about 10 minutes later, but only managed to whip an effort over as exasperated Iranian fans threw their hands in the air.
Then came a moment of drama as Iran thought they had won a last-ditch penalty after Mehdi Taremi felt he was tugged in the penalty box. Nothing was given.
Despite being thumped 6-2 in their opener against England, a dramatic last-gasp victory over 10-man Wales was what gave Iran the impetus coming into the game with the Americans.
Carlos Queiroz’s side scored twice in the final moments of stoppage time to reignite their hopes of reaching the World Cup knockout stages for the first time.
This time, lightning - or Iran - would not strike twice, or even just once.
The US will next face the Netherlands in the round of 16.