World Stories – USA-Iran, England-Argentina: the interweaving of football, wars and politics

World Stories – USA-Iran, England-Argentina: the interweaving of football, wars and politics

Often in the past the roads of football and politics have intertwined: the most sensational case is that of the challenges between the USA and Iran.

It has been 24 years since the last football match between the United States of America and Iran. 24 years later in Doha, in a free land, that of the emirs who try to rule the world with black gold, the two national teams will once again challenge each other, just as happened in Lyon on 21 June 1998. Even in that case it was a valid challenge for the groups: this time the two national teams will meet for the third day, while in France the match was on the second of Group F. Small details that do not change the substance: because the match between the United States and Iran is by no means trivial.

The conflict that exists between the two countries is atavistic, ever since Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in 1979 took away power from the monarch Rheza Palevi, pro-American in his political approach and in his relations with the White House: a dismissal that had brought the Iran to a Shiite theocracy, founded on the objective of annulling and overthrowing the great enemy arrived from the West, bringing the country back in a more traditionalist direction. The US embassy based in Tehran also suffered the consequences, because Khomeini, with his revolution, also kidnapped numerous officials of the American body. It was the beginning of that conflict that we could define as eternal, still active in the present and not destined to subside. A conflict that has become colder recently, but which has lived at high temperatures since relations broke down in 1979. On the one hand, a Shiite theocracy intent on overshadowing the power of the United States, on the other, a country that has seen excluded by the Iranian ayatollahs.

An intersection that, when Iran arrives at the World Cup in France in 1998, could not fail to be silenced. For the country it is the second participation ever in an international event after that of Argentina ’78 and it takes shape thanks to the goal by Kodadad Azizi, who condemned Australia in front of television on 29 November in Melbourne, to follow the World Cup from distant. Iran shows up in Lyon, at the De Gerland stadium, with the great opportunity to teach the galloping imperialism of the United States a lesson in football and sport. Yet, a few hours before the start of the match, both Governments let it be known that the football federations want to separate themselves from politics and take the field in a peaceful manner, playing that match for what it represents. And so it is, because that international showcase is also kept at bay by Fifa, which is informed of seven thousand suspicious tickets, probably purchased by emissaries from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, America’s new main enemy in those years.

It’s not the only problem that risks triggering a diplomatic war, because the teams are preparing to take the field and soon one of the two will have to wait for the other to go and extend the greeting and the hand, in the most classic of football protocols . Iran receives the order not to go and greet the United States and at that moment Mehrdad Masoudi, press officer and Fifa delegate for the match, of Iranian origin among other things, manages to mediate: the Americans will go and greet Iran, reversing the protocol and resolving a dangerous risk of a diplomatic case. During the pre-match, however, the suspects in the stands do exactly what Fifa wanted to avoid: banners against the Islamic Republic, ready to praise the country’s armed forces, appear in the stands, but the television networks are given the order not to frame them, so as to let only those present know what is happening. Then came the surprise when Iran entered the field: the president of the Iranian Football Federation, Mohsen Safaei Farahani, ordered the players to enter with a white rose in hand. Relaxation has won.

On the field, then, Iran will win: 2-1 with goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia, while McBride’s flag goal will arrive for the United States three minutes from the end. Iran finds its first victory in a World Cup and it does so against its bitter political opponents, in a relaxed and serene atmosphere, relaxed precisely by the great diplomacy demonstrated in the minutes before the match. After that event the two countries met only during a 2000 friendly match in Pasadina, but now the situation could be assessed as more complex. Tehran does not dialogue with the White House, it has not digested that raid in Baghdad during which Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general and standard-bearer of foreign policy, was killed. Furthermore, Iran is currently aligned between allies of Putin and Russia, to which the supply of drones is constant and continuous. Perhaps sport will win again in this case, with the United States being called, once again, to extend its hand.

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USA – Iran won’t be the only challenge to hold the court for sporting-political reasons at the World Cup in Qatar. This is because, despite not being included in the same group, Argentina and England also remain on the alert. The football rivalry between the two nations has its origins in the Falklands War of 1982, but it then went on to decline very well in football too, prompting English fans today to consider South Americans their main opponents, on a par with Scotland and Germany. Over the years the two national teams have had the opportunity to meet several times, but the 1966 challenge certainly represents a real watershed: to this day that event is remembered as El robo del siglo, or the theft of the century: it was ten minutes of pure madness that they consigned to history Rattin and his confrontation with the German referee Kreitlein. Argentina’s captain and number ten was expelled, even without the help of cards, despite the fact that the referee absolutely didn’t understand what Rattin was saying to him at that moment: he doesn’t agree, he demands explanations, but the two speak different languages . At that point the player refuses to leave the field and demands the intervention of an interpreter, but in the end they grab him and take him off the pitch. It is at that moment that Rattin has the unfortunate idea of ​​sitting on the red carpet, an exclusive place for members of the English royal house. Wembley riots and starts throwing any available object from the stands at the player.

The two internationals met again in 1998, a match remembered for the sending-off of David Beckham for a foul in Diego Simeone’s leg with his heel. A reaction that the English midfielder made amends for four years later, when he scored the decisive penalty in the match at the 2002 World Cup. No less important, in the album of memories, is the figure that recalls the Mano de Dios, the goal scored by hand by Diego Armando Maradona in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup against England, eliminated and also forced to concede another wonderful, memorable goal by the Argentine champion. Barely four years had passed since the Falklands War and England, which had prevailed in a war that resulted in 11,000 Argentine prisoners, had to give way to the Argentina national team.

However, if there is a challenge that England will really have to face, it is the one with the United States, its overseas cousins. The two national teams don’t have a particular rivalry, except that they can find themselves playing a real derby, but when they take the field they will surely remember the Miracle of Belo Horizonte, the match on June 29, 1950 which saw the Raimundo Sampaio Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, triumph of the United States over the Anglo-Saxons. It was the first round of the World Cup and England were in their first World Cup participation after leaving FIFA and returning in 1946. The referee for that match was the Italian Generoso Dattilo, who observed, from the third position, the victory for the United States, given for defeat at the beginning of the competition, with CT Jeffrey himself declaring that he did not have any kind of chance in that competition. The Daily Express, on the eve of the match, carried a headline saying: “It would be right to start the game by giving your opponents a three-goal lead”.

That miracle also had political implications, because Joe Gaetjens, author of the decisive goal, hoped to be able to obtain US citizenship, which never arrived: indeed, he found himself going to France and then to Haiti in 1953, also playing for the country’s national team . All traces of him were lost and today it is believed he may have been killed in prison. England, on the other hand, came out of that World Cup unexpectedly, also losing against Spain. A sign that in football you never start out defeated or winners: the banality of the roundness of the ball represents an impeccable reality and every event can change the course of a match. As indeed happened in the World Cup until today.


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