American and Iranian soccer fans pack Doha’s stadium wearing countries’ flags and colors ahead of group finale, as both teams look to advance to World Cup knockout stage amid growing political turmoil
- Team USA faces Iran in its Group B finale on Tuesday in Doha needing a win to advance to the knockout stage
- Red-white-and-blue-clad American fans flooded Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium along with their Iranian rivals
- Tuesday’s game is the second World Cup clash between the two teams following Iran’s 1998 upset of the US
- That game was peaceful, despite being played amid worsening political friction between the enemy countries
- Tuesday’s game is also being played amid strained relations following an inflammatory tweet by US Soccer
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Red-white-and-blue-clad American soccer fans have flooded Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium along with their Iranian counterparts ahead of the Group B finale as both teams seek to advance to the World Cup knockout stage in Qatar.
Supporters for both teams wrapped themselves in their countries’ flags and painted their faces for the match, which is carries significant ramifications for both teams.
Tuesday’s game marks the second World Cup clash between the two teams, following Iran’s 1998 upset of Team USA in Lyon, France – a loss that eliminated the Americans from advancing to the tournament.
Likewise, Iran (1-1-0) can eliminate the US (0-0-2) again on Tuesday in Doha with a tie or a draw, while the Americans can only advance with a victory.
Aside from soccer, there’s the unavoidable friction between Iran and the US — two countries that have been without formal diplomatic relations since 1980. In recent years, the US has pulled out of its nuclear deal with Iran and voiced support for feminist protestors facing the government’s wrath in Tehran.
The conflict was exacerbated over the weekend by a US Soccer tweet, which included an image of the Iranian flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. The omission was intended to support the protesters in Iran, according to the US Soccer Federation, which has since returned the crest to the Iranian flag on Team USA’s website.
Regardless, Iran demanded FIFA boot the US from the World Cup for allegedly removing the name of God from their national flag, while ‘#ExpellUSA’ began trending on Twitter. And as if this weren’t enough of a political minefield, the match is being played in Qatar, a strategic ally of Iran that is also home to a US military air base.
But ahead of Tuesday’s match, those issues seemed secondary among fans, who remained peaceful on their way into the stadium.
Red-white-and-blue-clad American soccer fans have flooded Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium along with their Iranian counterparts ahead of the Group B finale as both teams seek to advance to the World Cup knockout stage in Qatar
A fan wearing a Captain America masks is pictured ahead of Tuesday’s match between the US and Iran in Doha, Qatar
Fans pose with the flags of Iran and the USA before the FIFA World Cup 2022 group B soccer match
An Iran fan is pictured ahead of Tuesday’s Group B finale between the US and Iran in Doha, Qatar
Iranian and US supporters pose for a photo before the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha
Fans pose before the World Cup group B match between Iran and the United States at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha
Fans of USA enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match
A fan of USA with a flag together with a fan of Iran with a flag outside the Al Thumama Stadium before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between
A United States fan dressed as a bottle of Budweiser is pictured inside the stadium, where beer is strictly prohibited
US-Iranian relations have been miserable since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, in which the American-backed Shah was ousted from power and ultimately replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. American diplomats were held hostage at the US Embassy in a prolonged standoff, and tensions were only enflamed by Iran’s eight-year war with neighbor Iraq, which received financial support from the US for a period of time.
The two countries clashed over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, economic sanctions imposed on Iran, and even on the battlefield. The US bombed an Iranian frigate in 1988 in retaliation for the country’s naval mining of the Persian Gulf, and later, America shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians from six nations.
President Bill Clinton imposed a complete embargo on Iranian goods in 1995 over accusations of state-sponsored terrorism and Tehran’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.
So when the two teams found themselves in the same group at the 1998 World Cup in France, the local government took notice. Riot police were enlisted to safeguard the stadium in Lyon, but were rendered unnecessary by the brewing euphoria.
The game itself wasn’t played timidly by any stretch, but it was hardly a ferocious match, either. Halfback Claudio Reyna — father of current US midfielder Gio — happily helped Iranian forward Ali Daei up off the pitch after a collision.
The only downside was that one team had to lose, and that was the US.
A USA fan and Iran fan speak together prior to the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match
Fans of USA enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between IR Iran and USA at Al Thumama Stadium on Tuesday
Iranian and US supporters cheer before the World Cup group B soccer match between Iran and the United States
IR Iran fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between IR Iran and USA at Al Thumama Stadium on November 29, 2022 in Doha
United States fan is seen in Souq Waqif ahead of Tuesday’s match between Team USA and Iran
A fan of IR Iran shows their support outside the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between IR Iran and USA at Al Thumama Stadium
Coming off an impressive performance at the 1994 World Cup, which included an upset of tournament favorites Colombia, the Americans began 1998 by beating Brazil as the CONCACAF Gold Cup in February. With several holdovers from four years earlier, and a pair of Premier League keepers — Liverpool’s Brad Friedel and Leicester City’s Kasey Keller — the US appeared ready to turn the corner as a soccer power.
The team was also encouraged by the addition of Predrag Radosavljević, the Yugoslavian-born attacking midfielder known as Preki, who had become one of the MLS’s top scorers.
Despite it all, the Americans fell flat on their face in the group opener against aging Germany, losing 2-0, while giving up a goal to future Team USA coach, Jürgen Klinsmann.
But it was the second match, against Iran, that officially spoiled the 1998 World Cup for the US. Despite possessing the ball for most of the match, the US couldn’t generate any opportunities offensively. Instead, Iran was able to capitalize on its fleeting chances, as Hamid Estili beat Keller on a header in the 40th minute.
When they faced each other in group play at the 1998 World Cup in France (pictured), both Team Iran and Team USA silenced any agitators with a pregame group photo. The Iranians even gave white roses to their opponents, setting a peaceful tone, before handing the Americans a 2-1 defeat in what remains US Soccer’s greatest World Cup disappointment
Iranian midfielder Ali Reza Mansourian (R) comforts US forward Joe-Max Moore after the 1998 World Cup in Lyon, France
Fans during the FIFA World Cup 1998 match between Iran and United States at Stade de Gerland on June 21, 1998 in Lyon
Back in Terhan, thousands of fans poured into the streets, including some women who went without their headscarves.
‘It was the greatest game we ever played,’ forward Khodadad Azizi said, as quoted by The New York Times. ‘The whole nation was waiting for this game and expecting us to win.’
The feeling wasn’t nearly as euphoric among American players, but they didn’t spoil the moment with poor sportsmanship. Instead, they smiled, shook the Iranian players’ hands, and swapped jerseys for a fitting ending to a historic day.
‘After 20 years and all the situations [between Iran and the United States], it was important to show that all the things said about Iran were not true,’ Iran goalkeeper Ahmad Abedzadeh told reporters. ‘We were courageous. We played fair. It was very important.’
US defender Jeff Agoos put it more succinctly: ‘We did more in 90 minutes than the politicians did in 20 years.’
IRANIAN FANS, PLAYERS RISK TEHRAN’S WRATH
Like many of the Iranian fans at this year’s tournament, those attending the 1998 World Cup hoped to raise awareness about human rights issues back home, but were met with resistance.
In France, supporters of Iranian dissident Mujahadeen Khalq accused the local government of permitting secret agents from Tehran to search the crowd for political enemies.
Similarly, Qatar is now accused of stifling dissent against its ally, Iran, during this year’s World Cup. Some fans claimed stadium security confiscated protest signs, while one Iranian woman living in the US said security took her flag, which contained the word ‘women.’
‘We’re first-generation American,’ Ayeh Shams, one of roughly 400,000 Iranians living in the US, told the AP. ‘Our parents were born in Iran. We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime.’
And it’s not just fans who have clashed with the Iranian government. Star player Sardar Azmoun has voiced support of the anti-government protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, who was detained and later killed by the morality police for improperly wearing her hijab.
Furthermore, Team Iran’s roster has been banned from protesting at the World Cup, according to manager Carlos Queiroz.
Fans hold up a shirt with the name of Mahsa Amini and a flag advocating for women’s rights prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and IR Iran at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. People have continued demonstrating in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in September. Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died after being arrested in Tehran by morality police, for allegedly violating the country’s hijab rules
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