Even the traditional handshake between the players will be an event that the world is interested in watching in the match between the United States and Iran, on Tuesday, in Doha, as part of the World Cup competitions, as the political tension between the two countries can cloud the atmosphere of the sporting event.
Major American newspapers focused on the sporting aspects of Tuesday’s match in Qatar, without ignoring the political aspects of the relationship between the two countries.
1998 World Cup
When the United States and Iran first met at the 1998 World Cup in France, Iranian players helped defuse geopolitical anxieties by giving white roses, a symbol of peace, to the American players before the game.
After Iran’s 2-1 victory in that match, he announced on state television: “Tonight the powerful and arrogant opponents felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands again.”
However, Tuesday’s match in Qatar comes in different circumstances as the internal situation in Iran is highly charged as the country has been reeling under the weight of tough US sanctions for decades.
It also comes after tensions led to Iran bombing a US military base in Iraq with missiles, following the killing of Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani by a US missile in Baghdad.
As the political-sports interest in Iran plays out, a number of American newspapers have written and reviewed the background of the political tension that mathematically dominates the decisive match.
The New York Times
When the players representing Iran and the United States perform at the World Cup in Qatar on Tuesday, millions of fans will analyze every move – not just passes, fouls and headers, but also whether Iranian players sing the national anthem, celebrate any goals or talk about the protests that are shaking their country, says the New York Times.
The newspaper adds that for a long time the game has become another front line in the conflict between the two geopolitical rivals, as Iran is involved in protests at home, in one of the most important challenges the republic has faced since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power. And this time it’s all on display under the bright lights of the world’s most watched event.
The U.S. Soccer Federation joined the fray in support of the Iranian protesters, erasing Iran’s official coat of arms and Islamic text from the Iranian flag in photos it posted on social media.
But the posts were later deleted after the Iranian soccer federation called for the US national team to be suspended from the World Cup.
The paper says that the victory of the United States, which will qualify it to the next round at the expense of Iran, will put the Iranian internal conflict in front of a large global audience for at least a few days.
“We are mature enough and experienced enough to know that this has nothing to do with government or politics,” Alex Lalas, a defender of the national team, was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
And it quoted U.S. coach Steve Sampson, who resigned shortly after losing to Iran in 1998 to the Guardian, as telling FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation not to politicize the game, even as Iran did.
“I think the Iranian government has made it a political game,” he said.
“If I were to do it all over again, I would have brought the history between the two countries with the players and used it as a motivational tool to get a result. But I chose not to at that time. don’t,” he said.
But the paper suggests that using the thorny “history” between the two countries to motivate players to give their best might not be such a bad thing after all.
Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal refers to the political dimensions of the game, but it sheds light on a different kind of controversy, since the performance of the American team in tournaments may represent the factor that controls the future of soccer in the United States, and it is an unpopular game, or at least it comes in a ladder. Interest in sports like basketball, racquetball, American football and maybe even golf.
The paper says that each match result carries an additional burden of greater interpretation, as the result is bigger than just winning, drawing or losing, but rather lies in the perspective of what it represents for the future of sports in the United States and the way the world watches American football.
This is of course for the men’s soccer team, and the US women’s team, with its four World Cup titles, is among the best women’s teams in the world.
The newspaper quoted veteran athlete Roger Bennett as saying that in previous eras, American players felt they had two jobs: one as a player, and the other as an ambassador for a sport that still has a foothold in trying to find their homeland.
And the paper closes with a question: “What does Tuesday’s game against Iran mean for the United States?” And it answers: “It means surviving in the World Cup. That’s enough meaning.”
In Iran… the World Cup is a “political battle”
On the other hand, the Iranian state media promotes the national team’s matches with the national teams of countries hostile to it as something like a political battle.
Before the team left Qatar, state media broadcast photos of the players meeting Iran’s conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, who posed for photos with the team while holding a T-shirt with his name printed on the back. At least one player bowed out.
In a match in which the Iranian national team lost heavily 6-2 to England, Kayhan newspaper, which is close to the guide, said the result was “two goals for Iran and six goals for England, Israel, Saudi- Arabia and the internal and external enemies,” as she described it.
In this match, the silence of the protesting Iranian team during the reading of the country’s national anthem was met with wide international attention, and the gesture was seen as advocacy for the protesters in Iran.
The team’s successes are usually used in the regime’s propaganda.
An Iranian newspaper close to reformers reported on Monday that hundreds of government officials and supporters traveled to the World Cup at public expense to support Iran.
It is not clear if they are the same pro-government supporters who clashed with anti-government supporters outside the stadiums last week.
In their match with Wales, which Iran won 2-0, Kayhan’s headline read “Iran 2 – Wales, Israel, Saudi Arabia, domestic and foreign traitors 0”.
Videos show members of riot police and paramilitary forces violently, sometimes fatally, suppressing the protests – dancing atop riot control vehicles in their tactical gear, waving guns in one hand, flags in the other.