Team Melli Once United Iran at World Cup. Now It Reflects Its Divisions. Is This The New Iran?
The Iranian football team at the World Cup. (Reuters).
I was on the plane to Copenhagen from Washington, D.C. on a rainy evening in a time zone that is five hours ahead of Tehran time. I was there to watch Iran play against World Cup champions Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
Iran came into this tournament as the most successful football nation in the world, having made the final five years in a row and winning the Asian Cup in 2005 and the Asian Games in 2010.
I watched a team that in the past season had beaten the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League and was even able to qualify for the 2014 World Cup as the best team in Europe.
Iran was now a major force at the World Cup as it came back from the biggest crisis in its history in the middle of the group stage (losing to Argentina and drawing with the Netherlands).
Iran had just won its first major tournament since 1979 – the Iran-Iraq match in the 2002 Asian Cup, when the nation saw the end of the war in the Persian Gulf and entered the era of democracy.
But Iran had also suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Dutch in the 2006 World Cup, when a goal from Arsalan Iftikhar that would have won the team the game – if only the ball had not struck the crossbar – became a defining moment when Iran became Iran once more and never again played for the Netherlands.
That Dutch goal was the most devastating in Iran’s long history. The goal that left a huge wound inside Iran. And it was also the turning point that would bring change in Iran.
After that match, Iranian football fans had a moment of unity and reconciliation. They no longer hated the Dutch or hated Iran, but respected the opposition – and the opponent always deserved to win.
Iran had had a long history of success and of glory, with many victories, but also failed periods.
Many Iranians believed that the defeat to the Netherlands was the end of the Persian empire.
“They have now given in because this is the end. The Netherlands can compete at any time.”
What was Iran to do in the past five years?
The country had gone through