DOHA, Qatar — In the final frenetic moments of Tuesday’s World Cup match between the United States and Iran, as the United States repelled a desperate Iranian attack, an American fan sat not far from me. snatched the black-striped white headscarf that accompanies the traditional game The Arabian Gulf thawing scarf he had chosen to wear during the game and tosses it in the air. “Why?” he shouted.
The headgear was elsewhere in the crowd and tensed fans were only answered by the referee’s whistle. The United States narrowly won the final round of the group stage, qualifying for the next round, while the Netherlands is currently standing in the way of the United States into the quarterfinals. Why was the battle with the Iranian team – an incompetent, if tenacious opponent – so tragically tense? Probably because it can’t go any other way.
For a first round match, the stakes cannot be higher. The United States had to win to advance to the second knockout round and showed that the promise of their young rising star generation was more than just potential. Iran must avoid defeat (and count on a Wales to bluntly lose to England, which they did). The group was hoping to repeat famous 2-1 victory over USA at the 1998 World Cup in France – still an important victory in Iran’s sporting history. That is to be disappointed.
For two countries that have no diplomatic relations and no shortage of political animosity, there is a lot of tension unrelated to grades and qualifications. With mass anti-regime protests still raging in Iran, their national team made it through the tournament under the harsh spotlight. Its players, many of whom have at least expressed tacit support for the protesters, have faced alleged pressure from regime officials as well as the anger of one Part of the Iranian diaspora considers the team as a pawn of the regime.
The US turned up the temperature when its football federation released images on social media ofe Flag of the Iranian team has the insignia of the Islamic Republic removed. Those were quickly deleted, but Iranian officials called on the US to face sanctions, even expulsion from the World Cup for the act. It was another episode of political hatred at a tournament where organizers dogmatically asserted that politics had no place.
But, for Iran, you can tell the whole political story in the span of a generation that bridged America’s victory in Qatar and America’s defeat to Iran in Lyon 24 years ago.. Unlike in 1998, no group photos have been shared this year of American and Iranian players standing together to call on the united power of sport. Unlike 1998, the Iranian players no roses to their US counterparts before the match begins. Amidst the stifling US sanctions regime and constant threats of war, no fig leaves or olive branches were distributed.
The Iranian regime now faces even more international scrutiny and criticism, and deepens grievances against the United States and its Western allies. In 1998, a handful of anti-regime protesters in Iran chanted slogans against then-President Mohammad Khatami. These days, Khatami is an abandoned, marginalized figure, a supposed “reformer” pushed aside by the supremacy of those loyal to a tougher line to the establishment. member of the regime and unrelated to the protesters calling for fundamental change on the streets of Iran.
“People feel that the reformists have helped the hardliners by promising reforms that can’t be delivered to the hardliners in power,” a former official said. position who served in the Khatami . government told Reuters in the first day of this month. “We should accept that the younger generation in Iran doesn’t want us. The reform movement is dead.”
There was also a lot of hostility shown in 1998.. Iran star striker Khodadad Azizi vows revenge for the devastating Iran-Iraq war that the Iranians blame for US intervention: “Many martyrs’ families are expecting us to win,” he said. . “We will win for their sake.”
Speaking to the Guardian in 2018, Steve Sampson, who coached the failed USA team in 1998, lamented his team’s approach two decades ago. “I think the Iranian government has turned it into a political match,” he say. “If I were to do it all over again, I would recount the history between the two countries with the players and use it as a motivational tool to get results. But I chose not to at the time.
In some cases, Iranian athletes have become anti-regime figures. One of the stars of the Iran national team in 1998 was legendary striker Ali Daei, who made a key pass to seal his team’s victory over the Americans. Daei remains a popular national hero and has spoken out in support of the protest movement in Iran, calling for the release of many protesters suppressed by security forces. He turned down the opportunity to go to Qatar and cheer for the team as a gesture of solidarity with dissidents and due to the apparent backlash against him from pro-forces regime.
“I have received numerous threats against myself and my family in recent months and days from a number of organizations, media and unidentified individuals,” Daei said in a statement. statement on Instagram. “I was taught humanity, honor, patriotism and freedom… What do you want to achieve with such threats?
What this Iranian team has achieved under difficult circumstances is an open question. They were criticized for their disastrous loss to England in the opening game, where no players sang the national anthem, before a landslide victory over Wales – where some players, perhaps provoked by the authorities. , sang. Carlos Queiroz, Iran’s coach, said at a press conference last week when faced with questions about the protests: “To make them the only people they need to give answers tells you about human problems around the world. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Before Tuesday’s match at the al-Thumama stadium, countless Iranian fans repeated that quote. “I came all the way from the US to cheer for the Iranian national team,” said a woman named Sherry, who lives in Houston, Texas but wears Iranian colors. “For me, it would be the same if it was under the Shah or if it was under the Islamic Republic.”
Others expressed anger at the political status quo in Iran. “All the audience who came here had mixed feelings. The Islamic regime is trying to usurp this team’s success,” warned a man named Sina, who was born in Iran but lives in Sydney. He lamented the plight of hundreds of political prisoners recently in Iran, many of whom he feared would be executed.
Milad SEYedi and a group of his relatives traveled to the game from Toronto. Team Iran is the “man of the Iranian team,” not the regime’s team. “They are under all kinds of pressure. Their families are under pressure,” Seyedi added. “We’re not against them.” The jerseys that SEYedi and his siblings all wear are replicas of what the 1998 team wore. “It was a fun time for us,” he said.