Gifts, a souvenir photo and a symbolic victory for Iran (2-1). On June 21, 1998 in Lyon in the group stage of the World Cup organized in France, the Mille team and the United States met in a historic match between two countries without diplomatic relations since 1980.
This duel is considered one of the most prominent events of the tournament since the draw, which was dubbed the “Brotherhood Game.” This duel took place a year after the election of reformer Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005) as president, which marked the period of thaw between Iran and the West. .
Just before the clash, his US counterpart Bill Clinton had hoped that it would “constitute a new step towards ending hostility” between the two countries, which became adversaries after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and, above all, the taking of hostages. US Embassy in Tehran (1979-1981).
At the time of the teams’ introduction, protocol was strict and both teams posed together for a historic photo op. The Iranians, who qualified for the second time in their history to play the World Cup since 1978, presented a bouquet of white flowers to each of their North American rivals.
However, the atmosphere remained charged in the Gerland stands, where many supporters of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (WIPO), an exiled movement banned in Iran, stood.
One of them entered the field before the start of the match, wearing a T-shirt with the doll of Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the organization, before he was evacuated by security officials.
It was the second match between the two teams in that World Cup, tough and with a lot of physical strength, but without special hostility. In the end, the Iranians declared victory thanks to Hamid Estili (40) and Mahdi Mahdavikia (84), while the Americans narrowed the gap with a goal by Brian McBride (87).
Since the final whistle, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets of Tehran to sing and dance until dawn. However, the success of Team Melli was not feasible from a mathematical point of view, as they were finally eliminated in the first round after losing to Germany (2-0).
On the diplomatic level, US State Department spokesman James Rubin referred instead to a “beginning” to “build relationships, tear down walls of mistrust and create a better understanding”.
“We did more in 90 minutes than politicians have done in 20 years,” said American defender Jeff Agos.
Later, another friendly meeting, this time between the two countries (1-1), was organized in 2000 in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, where a large Iranian community lives, before 50,000 spectators. This will be the last before the match scheduled for Tuesday in Doha in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup. (Dr)
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