When the U.S. and Iranian teams meet in Qatar on Tuesday, they will be set against the backdrop of protests and violence that have rocked Iran – threatening the very nature of the regime that has been in power for more than 40 years. But this is not the first time the two countries have met on the football field under the weight of geopolitical tensions.
The United States qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France and was drawn in December 1997 with Germany, Yugoslavia and, most importantly, Iran. This is the first time that Iran and the United States have been officially described as “Great Satan” in Iran. Just like this time in 2022, the United States played against Iran in 1998. If the United States is to advance to the knockout rounds, that game must be won.
“It’s a bit of a distraction,” Steve Sampson told CNN Sport, adding that FIFA wanted the rally to be just about the game, and as a relatively young 41-year-old coach, he made sure his team The conversation was about “football and nothing else.”
In hindsight, Sampson said he regretted the approach, adding that he could have motivated his side by talking about the political history between the two countries.
On the eve of the game, the Iranian team received an order from the government not to shake hands with the Americans, which is a FIFA rule.
Younes Masoudi told FIFATV in 2018: “We have come to the conclusion that we will have a joint team picture, not who goes to whom.”
So, on the evening of June 21, at the Gerland Stadium in Lyon, the players walked onto the court. In the elaborate pre-match ceremony, the Iranian players presented their opponents with white roses symbolizing peace, and the two teams took a group photo.
“I will remember this photo for the rest of my life,” Jalal Talebi, Iran’s coach at the time, who was living in the United States, once told the Guardian. But Sampson said the pre-game ritual “distracted us a little bit from the game.”
Security is high. “We have 150 armed police, which is unprecedented in a World Cup game. I said we need to bring these 150 fans and surround this group of fans to stop them from invading the stadium,” Masudi told FIFATV in a 2018 interview.
Iran’s 2-1 win – its first at the World Cup – sparked wild celebrations in Tehran. The New York Times reported at the time that “thousands of fans took to the streets to celebrate, with some women not wearing scarves.”
The game has been on Sampson’s mind for years. “The loss to Iran was devastating, heartbreaking,” he said. “We’re even more disappointed that we didn’t qualify for the World Cup.”
“What happened on the pitch in those two hours was a lesson for the whole world that despite our differences, despite our different backgrounds we may come from, we can live together peacefully,” Masudi told FIFATV in 2018.