Iran v USA: Fans bring mixed emotions, find World Cup victory bittersweet

Keenly aware of the political unrest and protests throughout Iran, Team USA fans were a little less celebratory in their 1-0 victory

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The Iran-USA match at the Fifa World Cup proved to be a nail-biter — and not only because of the play.

As protests continue to rage in Iran and after nuclear deal negotiations with the US broke down yet again this year, the match held great significance for both countries.

Team USA's humiliating 2-1 defeat by Iran in the 1998 World Cup was also on the minds of many.

By noon, Public Bar Live in Washington's trendy Du Pont Circle was already packed with fans.

Patrick Doyle took the afternoon off work to watch the Iran-USA match.

Kitted out in a US men's national team shirt, he said that while he hoped for a victory, “the World Cup is special because it brings people together rather than divides them politically".

An Iranian flag hangs in Public Bar Live in Washington's trendy Du Pont Circle before the Iran-USA World Cup match. Joshua Longmore / The National

Amir, an Iranian-American fan who showed up to watch the game, was sporting the 1998 World Cup Iran kit under a 1994 USA jacket.

"It's a difficult game to root for," he said. "The emotions are high, the tensions are high, so I'm just happy to be able to watch."

While Amir expressed conflict over which team he wanted to win, he criticised Tehran for "human rights abuses", including "oppressing women".

"Iranians just want to live in a normal country where we can support our football team without government propaganda," he said.

"The Islamic Republic represents all of the negative progress that the country has suffered through."

USA fan Ariel prepares for the game in Washington. Joshua Longmore / The National

USA fan Ariel used American symbols heavily in his World Cup outfit, with blue and white-striped trousers, socks and hat.

"I think that every country should be free, so obviously they have an oppressive regime," he said. "I'm for the protests, I guess, in reality, and hope everyone gets their freedom out there."

Amir recalled the sting of defeat after USA lost to Iran in the 1998 World Cup in a similarly charged match.

"In all sports, politics are brought into it - even though they say to separate politics and sports - it's completely untrue," he added. "It's always, to me, political in every sense."

At Padriac's Irish pub, another sports hotspot in Atlanta, Georgia, fans said politics did not need to be part of football.

"It's a sports match. Let's leave the politics out of it," said USA fan David Joseph.

Football fans watch the USA-Iran match at Padriac's in Atlanta, Georgia. Holly Aguirre / The National

But he said: "I do feel for the Iranian people and wish we'd see a regime change and the Iranian players definitely have more pressure on them."

Fellow fan David Wiedrick agreed.

"It’s a soccer game and politics shouldn’t be part of it," Mr Wiedrick said.

Team USA fan David Wiedrick says the game shouldn't be political and that the players have enough pressure on them as it is. Holly Aguirre / The National

"It’s a big enough stage, the World Cup stage, and there shouldn’t be any more pressure put on the athletes. Let the athletes do their thing."

But others could not see around the political ramifications of the match.

"Do you remember the 1980 Olympic hockey game when the US played Russia?" asked USA supporter Bernie Brady. "It’s like that. It is political. It can’t help but be political."

Additional reporting by Sara Ruthven, Joshua Longmore in Washington and Holly Aguirre in Atlanta

Updated: November 30, 2022, 6:36 AM