Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 29-Iran Defeat ‘The Great Satan’ (1998)

When Iran and the United States drew each other in Group F for France ’98 the world took notice. Here were two countries that didn’t really get along what with the whole hostage taking and Islamic extremists etc. Then there was the Iraq v Iran war with the Americans kind of funding the Iraqis with weapons and the like and you can see why to this day relations between Iran and ‘The Great Satan’ are still a tad frosty.

After knocking Australia out (must…repress…memory) Iran had changed coaches with Jalal Telebi taking over the coaching position at the last moment after the Croatian Tomislav Ivic was sacked. The USA came roaring into the tournament with loudmouthed coach Steve Sampson proclaiming that they would attack in all games. What Sampson had also done was gut the team of a heap of players who had been instrumental in getting the team to the tournament, including the captain John Harkes.

Rumours abounded that Harkes had been sleeping with teammate Erik Wynalda’s wife in the lead-up to the tournament. After both losing their opening games in a tough group that featured Yugoslavia and Germany June 21 would be the date and Lyon the venue where the world would be watching two ‘enemies’ face off in a football match.

Following the national anthems being played the two captains exchanged the usual merchandise but along with this there were bouquets of flowers and other trinkets in a symbol of friendship between the countries. Then the coup de grace was the iconic photo of the American and Iranian players having their team photo taken together – a truly lasting image that will always be remembered and was even used by diplomats as a basis to start the thaw between the countries.

The United States were favourites and had the Iranians under the kosh early but missed four good scoring chances early. Three shots hit the post or crossbar in the first 33 minutes, including two headers by the livewire striker Brian McBride. At the 33-minute mark, Reyna dribbled left across the top of the penalty box area against a curiously unconcerned Iranian defense then let fly a withering left-footed shot that caromed off the right post.

However, as the United States went forward, often pushing one of its defenders into attack, it left vacant enormous tracts of territory in the defensive half. Iran began to counterattack with some vigor, creating dangerous, one-on-one moments, usually with Australian heartbreaker, German Bundesliga forward Khodadad Azizi at the firing end.

The first goal came late in the first half, when the defensively limited Yanks appeared both tired and in disarray. Javad Zarincheh, previously a harmless threat on the right wing, played give-and-go outside the U.S. box with midfielder Mahdavikia Zarincheh carrying the ball toward the corner, where he crossed it past U.S. sweeper Thomas Dooley. The ball found the head of midfielder Estili, completely unmarked near the penalty spot, and he flicked a perfectly placed header shot into the upper-left corner of the goal.

Reyna and Ramos, neither known for defensive prowess, were the only U.S. players close to the play and they watched Estili’s shot sail over them and into the goal. Ramos said he and Reyna thought the other was marking the Iranian. The second half was just like the first. Reyna missed on a bicycle kick in front of the net off a header pass from McBride in the 57th. Preki Radosavljevic was wide on an open header in the 63rd. David Regis hit the goalpost in the 68th, and Frankie Hejduk’s volley was stuffed by goalkeeper Ahmad Abedzadeh in the 79th.

The second goal for Iran was even easier. With the Americans pressing forward desperately late in the game, Estili popped the ball past a missed tackle by Frankie Hejduk and Mahdavikia ran onto it with no one between him and goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Defender David Regis couldn’t catch Mahdavikia before he entered the box and fired a shot into the right corner past a diving Keller.

Mahdavikia’s winning goal in the 83rd was good enough to send Iranian players into a wild hugging, kissing celebration. Iran nearly took a three-goal lead four minutes later, but Ali Daei’s shot was cleared of the goal line by Regis. Finally, McBride scored less than a minute later when his header bounced off a defender standing on the goal line. McBride’s goal was all well and good but the game was gone and Iran had their first ever win in a World Cup.

Whilst the Iranian players weren’t into the whole symbolism of the win for the ‘war’ with the US, back in Iran the clergy leaders jumped on the opportunity to stick it up ‘em, so to speak:

“Tonight’s honourable and brave game was a beautiful picture of the struggles and conflicts between the Iranian nation and ‘The Great Satan’. Tonight the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands.”

The win was not only good for Iranian football but for the nation as a whole. No longer was the sport seen as an evil tool of Western Culture and the times of the western backed Shah. Football was a sport that could be entertaining and help people reach their goals in the eyes of the Islamic regime. The regime also saw that the sport could unite a mass of people and the win against the US was a prime example – the win against Australia to a lesser extent.

Finally Iran had bounced back to something near the powerful side of the 70s that had walked in Asian Cup victories and were by far and away the most powerful footballing nation in Asia before the revolution in 1979. The USA on the other hand went home in straight sets and were humiliated.

‘Uncle Sam’ Sampson was sacked as soon as he stepped off the plane while Iran got to fight another day but only one day as they were dumped out of the tournament by Jurgen Klinsmann and the Germans in the final group game.

A game where it was shown that sport can overcome petty political bigoted beliefs and encompass the good things about the human spirit, Iran V USA at France ’98 is most definitely a memorable moment.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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