A crucial sporting issue, a burning political context: Iran and the United States, without diplomatic relations since 1980, face each other on Tuesday in Doha with the key to qualifying for the round of 16 of the 2022 World Cup when the Republic Islam is rocked by unprecedented protests. Nearly a quarter of a century after the match between the two countries at the 1998 World Cup in France under the sign of the thaw and a certain reconciliation, it is in a completely different climate that Iranians and Americans go meet up in Qatar.
The publication of an Iranian flag has reignited tensions
Tension is extreme in Iran, the scene of a protest movement following the death on September 16 of the young Mahsa Amini, arrested by the morality police in Tehran for having, according to the latter, not having adhered to the strict dress code imposed by the regime. And the authorities are on edge at the approach of a shock with strong symbolic and geopolitical significance against the United States, the pet peeve of Iranian power.
The publication by the American Football Federation (USSF) on social networks of an Iranian flag without the emblem representing the word Allah did not fail to provoke the anger of its Iranian counterpart who denounced “an unprofessional act ” and asked Fifa “to issue a serious warning” to the USSF.
Will there be scenes of fraternization on the lawn, like in 1998?
A US Federation communications officer said it was a “one-time gesture to show our solidarity with women in Iran.” The flag in question was then removed, to put back that of the Islamic Republic, but the episode testifies to the heavy atmosphere which surrounds the meeting. Under these conditions, will there be scenes of fraternization between the players of the two selections before kick-off, as in 1998?
Contested like never before domestically, the Islamic Republic seems in any case to want to take advantage of the successes of “Team Melli”, at the risk of accentuating internal divisions. On social networks, images of riot police, who are carrying out a bloody crackdown on protesters, have been broadcast, showing their joy after the victory against Wales (2-0) on Friday. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed his satisfaction on Twitter, explaining that the players had “made the Iranian nation happy”.
A crucial sporting challenge for both teams
In this context, the coaches of the two teams worked on Monday to limit this duel to its sporting dimension. “The match will be hotly contested because the two teams will want to qualify at all costs, not because of the relations between our countries. We are football players, we are here for the competition and that’s it,” he said. US coach Gregg Berhalter.
Asked whether he was going to use the flag incident as leverage to motivate his troops, the boss of “Team Melli”, the Portuguese Carlos Queiroz, got away with it by a pirouette. “If after 42 years of career, I was convinced that I could win matches with this kind of psychological warfare, I would not have understood anything about this sport,” he said.
Because beyond the political confrontation between the two countries, the sporting issue is important enough to make the game unbreathable on its own. Iran is in search of the first qualification in its history for the round of 16. A draw will suffice. The Americans, hosts of the next World Cup in 2026 with Canada and Mexico, must absolutely win to reach the next round.
The Persian selection managed to wake up after an entry rout against England (6-2) and has the highest morale since its success acquired in stoppage time against Wales (2-0) on Friday. . The US team, solid but without genius, remains on two draws in two outings. The games are therefore very open and undecided.
Brayden White, a veteran sports writer at Global Happening, brings his wealth of knowledge and expertise to the sports section. With over a decade of experience, he is committed to delivering high-quality coverage of the latest games and events.