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FIFA WM Katar 2022 | Iran v USA
Image: Cao Can/Xinhua/IMAGO
SoccerIran

World Cup 2022: Iran out but leave lasting impression

Michael Da Silva
November 29, 2022

The United States are through to the last 16 of the World Cup. They secured a 1-0 win through forward Christian Pulisic, sending home an Iran team who have left a lasting impression on the tournament.

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Iran's run at the World Cup is over after they narrowly lost to the the United States in a tense contest in Doha.

The US will face the Netherlands on Saturday after Christian Pulisic's solitary goal settled what was effectively a playoff for the knockout stages with group winners England beating Wales 3-0 in the group's other game.

A single Iranian goal would have been enough to flip the result on its head, but it never came as the US held firm to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.

"The dream is over," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said."We will keep going and try to win respect and admiration and credibility all over the world, because I think my players deserve it."

American forward Christian Pulisic scores the only goal to send Iran home from the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
American forward Christian Pulisic scored the only goal to send Iran home.Image: Cao Can/Xinhua/IMAGO

Threat of imprisonment and torture

Iran leave the competition having made headlines around the world when they refused to sing the national anthem in their opening game, which set the tone as Iranian fans, including many women, proudly displayed their pro-revolutionary symbols, slogans and attire.

The Iranian player Voria Ghafouri, not selected for the tournament but one of the country's most prominent players, was even arrested back in Iran for supporting the women-led protests and "spreading propaganda" back home.

Reports even surfaced on Monday night that Iran had threatened the players' families with imprisonment and torture if the players fail to "behave" ahead of Tuesday’s game.

"Conditions in our country are not right, and our people are not happy," Iranian captain Ehsan Hajsafi told reporters after the England game. Hajsafi added that the victims’ families back home "should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathize with them."

Iran and the US: sporting and political foes

A meeting between Iran and the US at a World Cup is not new. They met at the 1998 edition too in a group stage dead rubber which Iran won 2-1, but neither team progressed beyond the first stage. This game 24 years on not only had more footballing jeopardy but came after 10 weeks of anti-government demonstrations have gripped Iranian cities, with thousands of protesters jailed and hundreds dead after the the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini while in police custody in Tehran in September sparked a movement.

The buildup to this game had become another frontline in the tensions between the nations, with Iran's two previous games having seen flashpoints among Iranian fans in Qatar. During Iran's victory over Wales on Friday, pro-Islamist supporters of the national team, some waving the Islamic Republic flag, reportedly clashed other supporters of the national side who wore pre-revolutionary flags or shirts emblazoned with "Women. Life. Freedom."

An Iran fan wears a 'Freedom 22' t-shirt
'Freedom 22': one of many Iranian pro-revolution slogans on show in QatarImage: Ulmer/Teamfoto/IMAGO

Social media tensions

Tensions went up a notch at the when US Soccer posted the Iranian flag minus the emblem of the Islamic Republic, which has been present on the flag since 1980, one year after the Islamic Republic was established. US Soccer deleted the posts claiming that it was done to "show support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights" but the damage was already done.

The American coach, Gregg Berhalter, apologized for the tweet of the flag. "I can only reiterate that the players and staff knew nothing about what was being posted sometimes things are out of our control,” he said. That didn't stop US captain Tyler Adams, the youngest captain at the tournament at 23, from being rebuked by an Iranian journalist in the prematch press conference for mispronouncing "Iran."

Queiroz, a former Real Madrid and Portugal coach and now in his second spell in charge of Iran, has never been one to court the limelight, but he has been unusually blunt in his responses to the questions that have been fired at him – mainly about former US coach Jürgen Klinsmann's comments for the BBC that gamesmanship was in Iran's "culture and how they play."

Queiroz responded on Twitter, claiming Klinsmann's comments — which the former German captain claims were "purely football related" — were a "disgrace to football" and demanded that Klinsmann should step down from his role on FIFA's technical study group, while Iran called for the US to be kicked out of the tournament.

In the end though it was the United States who sent Iran home — but Iran's cultural impact on this tournament will be an enduring one.

Have the Iran protests had an impact?

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