Iran v USA and Wales v England at the 2022 World Cup

The United States and Iran soccer teams line up before their 1998 World Cup match in Lyon, France. (Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

When the American and Iranian teams meet in Qatar on Tuesday, they will do so with the protests and violence that have rocked Iran – threatening the very nature of the regime in power for more than 40 years – as their backdrop. But this is not the first time that the two countries have met on a football pitch under the pressure of geopolitical tensions.

The United States had qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France, and in December 1997 they were drawn in the same group as Germany, Yugoslavia and, most importantly, Iran. It was the first time that Iran and the United States, sometimes officially described in Iran as the « Great Satan ». Much like that time in 2022, when the United States faced Iran in 1998, it was a must-play game for the United States if they were to advance to the knockout stages.

« It was a bit of a distraction, » Steve Sampson told CNN Sport, adding that FIFA wanted the preparation to be just for the match and, as a relatively young 41-year-old coach, he made sure that his team’s discussions were about « football and nothing else. »

Looking back, Sampson said he regretted that approach, adding he could have motivated his side by talking about the political history between the two countries.

On the eve of the match, the Iranian team had received an order from its government not to shake hands, which was FIFA protocol, with the Americans.

« We have come to the conclusion that instead of who walks to whom, we will take a joint team photo, » Younes Masoudi told FIFATV in 2018.

Thus, on the evening of June 21, at the Gerland stadium in Lyon, the players entered the field and in a choreographed pre-match ceremony, the Iranian players presented their opponents with white roses as a symbol of peace. and the teams posed together for a photo.

« I will remember this photo for the rest of my life, » Jalal Talebi, then Iran coach who was residing in the United States at the time, said in an interview with the Guardian. But Sampson said the pre-match ceremony « took our attention away from the game slightly ».

There was high security. “We had 150 armed police, which was unprecedented for a World Cup game. I said we have to bring those 150 and surround that group of supporters in order to prevent them from invading the pitch,” Masoudi told FIFATV in the 2018 interview.

Iran won 2-1 – their first in the World Cup – sparking wild celebrations in Tehran. The New York Times reported at the time that « thousands of celebrating fans took to the streets, some women without their headscarves ».

The match remained at the forefront of Sampson’s mind for years. « It was devastating, heartbreaking to lose to Iran, » he said. « We were disappointed especially since we didn’t advance in the World Cup. »

« What happened on this ground during these two hours was a lesson for the whole world: despite our differences, despite the fact that we may come from different backgrounds, we can live in peace together, » Masoudi said. at FIFATV in 2018.

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