World Cup 2022: United States – Iran, when football gets involved in diplomacy



The tension is mounting, on and off the field. Tuesday, November 29, the team of Iran, already under the spotlight with the revolt in progress in the country, faces the American selection. While the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1980, the clash between the teams for their last and decisive group match of the World Cup gives rise to extra-sporting bickering.

The Iranian Football Federation on Sunday demanded a sanction against the American Federation, which removed the emblem of the Iranian flag representing the word “Allah” in posts on social networks. The Americans have since justified this choice, explaining that they want “show their solidarity with women in Iran”. The icy situation between the two countries on the eve of a match is reminiscent of other meetings with a diplomatic flavor.

The “fratricidal fight” between the GDR and the FRG

This was the case between North Korea and South Korea, during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. Despite its few stars playing in the European championships, the South had not managed to decide between its northern rival. The meeting took place in China, to respond to perilous diplomatic preliminaries (which anthems to play, which flags to display, etc.). “This had above all given rise to a look from the whole world on a country that we knew very little about: North Korea, remembers Yvan Gastaut, lecturer at the UFR Staps of the University of Nice. But no obvious progress had been observed between the two border countries. »

If for its part the German Democratic Republic (GDR) has never played the slightest Euro, its only participation in a World Cup, organized in 1974 in West Germany, had resulted in a highly symbolic confrontation, facing the Federal Republic of Germany. This match, called “fratricidal fight”, gave birth to a major surprise: the GDR won against the great Mannschaft of Beckenbauer. The only scorer, Jürgen Sparwasser, will become a hero of the East German regime despite himself. A few years later, taking advantage of participation in a tournament for former players in the FRG, he fled the GDR.

” God’s hand “

In our English neighbours, all football fans remember the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup. Only four years after the war in the Falklands, opposing the British regime to Argentina, the two nations meet again. Diego Maradona interpreted a unique score there by deceiving the doorman Peter Shilton with his left hand. Nicknamed “the hand of God”, the gesture will anger the English, who will not recover. “The geopolitical context, added to the incredible scenario of the meeting, makes this match enter the legend”, remembers Yvan Gastaut.

“Generally speaking, high-stakes matches like playoffs or competitive matches have a much stronger reach than simple friendlies”, analyzes the football historian. For this observer, the France-Algeria friendly match of 2001, where hundreds of Algerian supporters invaded the lawn of the Stade de France, leading to the sudden end of the match, remains for example “anecdotal”.

Parenthesis

“One of the episodes that comes to mind, on the other hand, is the famous match between Italy, the reigning world champion, and France, the host country, in 1938: fascist Italy came to face the Republic French in a stadium where half of the public, made up of anti-fascists, booed the Italian selection, while the other half gave voice to impose its valueshe says. Mussolini used his country’s victory a lot to praise his model of society. »

Behind the magic of football, can we hope for an improvement in relations between two rival countries? “You have to see in it the strength of a symbol, but at the same time be aware of its vain side”, Judge Yvan Gastaut. The historian believes that sport and football in particular cannot “not change everything. But it has become such a powerful means of communication that obviously heads of state use it”.

The poster which is played Tuesday, November 29 between Iran and the United States had a precedent. It was in France, during the 1998 World Cup. At the time, if Iran had won 2 goals to 1, the white flowers offered by Iranian players to the Americans had delivered one of the strong images of the World. “The upcoming match inevitably arouses a certain excitement, Judge Yvan Gastaut, but it’s a safe bet that relations between the two countries will not change. This just gives a parenthesis, where we think that sport can have unsuspected powers. »

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Iran towards a great first?

The Iranians have their destiny in hand thanks to their victory over the Welsh (2-0), Friday, November 25. If they beat the United States on Tuesday 29 November, they will reach the round of 16 for the first time in their history. A draw would also qualify them, provided England were not beaten by Wales. On the other hand, a defeat would automatically mean elimination. Observed, the Iranian players had caused a sensation during their first match by refraining from singing their national anthem, as a sign of support for the demonstrations against the regime.

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