FLASHBACK: Soccer – and Iran – prevail in 1998 World Cup clash with the US

Even though political tensions are already high, the Group B final between Iran and America on Tuesday isn’t likely to be any less important. 

The Americans will need to win in Qatar to reach the knockout stages. But they are facing a rising Iranian squad, who is coming off its third consecutive title. World Cup victory — a 2-0 win over a Welsh team that tied the US in the opener. Team USA shocked England on Friday by drawing a 0-0 match, keeping the Three Lions on their heels during the match. 

But aside from soccer, there’s the unavoidable friction between Iran and the US — two countries that have been without formal diplomatic relations since 1980. The US has withdrawn from its nuclear deal in Iran in recent years and supported feminist protestors under the government’s wrath at Tehran.

US Soccer tweeted that the Iranian flag was being displayed without the Islamic Republic’s emblem, adding to the tension. According to the US Soccer Federation the omission was meant to support protesters in Iran. The US Soccer Federation has since restored the crest to Iran’s flag on Team USA’s site.

FIFA was asked by Iran to expel the US from the World Cup. World Cup for allegedly taking the name of God off their national flag. Meanwhile, #ExpellUSA started trending on Twitter. As if this wasn’t enough, the match is being held in Qatar, an ally of Iran and also home to a US military base.

However, history shows that soccer will be the main focus of Tuesday’s Doha match, despite all the political chest beating. 

In 1998, they played in group play. World Cup in France, both teams stifled any agitators with a pregame photo. They even gave white roses and a calm tone to their rivals before handing the Americans a 2-1 loss in what is still America’s greatest soccer match. World Cup disappointment.

In 1998, they played in group play. World Cup in France (pictured), Team Iran, Team USA and Team Iran both stifled any agitators with a group photo prior to the match. The Iranians also gave white roses their opponents to set a peaceful tone before handing the Americans defeat by 2-1 in what will be remembered as America’s greatest soccer match. World Cup disappointment

Iranian Midfielder Ali Reza Mansourian (R) Comforts Us Forward Joe-Max Moore After The 1998 World Cup In Lyon, France

After the 1998 World Cup, Ali Reza Mansourian (R), an Iranian midfielder, comforts Joe-Max Moore, a forward in the United States. World Cup in Lyon, France 

Us Keeper Kasey Keller Is Unable To Deflect The Ball As Teammate Eddie Pope (#3) Looks On,  At The Gerland Stadium In Lyon, Central France, During The 1998 Soccer World Cup Group F First Round Second Match Between Iran And The Us

US keeper Kasey Keller is unable to deflect the ball as teammate Eddie Pope (#3) looks on,  at the Gerland stadium in Lyon, central France, during the 1998 Soccer World Cup Group F, second round match between Iran & the USA

Relations between the US and Iran have been poor since 1979 Iranian Revolution. The American-backed Shah was forced from power by the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became the Shah. The US Embassy was held hostage for eight years by American diplomats. Tensions were only increased by Iran’s eight year war with Iraq, which received financial support from America for a time.

The conflict between the two countries was over the Israeli-Palestinian war, Iranian economic sanctions, and even the battleground. In 1988, the US bombed an Iranian ship and then later shot down a passenger plane from Iran, killing 290 civilians.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton placed a total embargo on Iranian products due to accusations of state-sponsored terror and Tehran’s attempts to create weapons of mass destruction.

When the two teams were placed in the same category at the 1998 Olympic Games, it was a sign that they had found common ground. World Cup in France was noticed by the local government. Although the police were called in to guard Lyon’s stadium, they were disqualified by the brewing euphoria.

Instead of expressing anger, they celebrated their moment together by putting on their national flags and embracing one another in Lyon. To the delight of American friends, Iranian fans were reported to have been chanting ‘U.S.A.’

‘We’ve never really stopped being friends, whatever the governments did,″ a woman named Afsaneh told the AP, while withholding her last name for fear of government retaliation back home.

Amir Hosseinzadeh joked, a young exile from Sweden, that “I hope the game improves relations among our countries, for commerce and chicks”.

Pre-game photo op made the atmosphere even better in the stadium. Iranian players met their American counterparts at midfield with bouquets of white roses — a symbol of peace in Iran — while the US players shared red and white pennants with their opponents.

Iran And Usa Soccer Teams Line Up Before The World Cup 1St Round Match In June Of 1998

Before the World Cup, Iran and USA soccer teams meet up World Cup 1st round match June 1998 

Fans During The Fifa World Cup 1998 Match Between Iran And United States At Stade De Gerland On June 21, 1998

FIFA fans during the FIFA World Cup 1998 match between Iran & United States at Stade de Gerland, June 21, 1998

An Unidentified American Supporter (L), From Denver, And An Iranian Supporter Pose For The Photographer With Their Flags

A Denver-based American supporter (L) and an Iranian supporter pose in front of the photographer, holding their flags.

Fans During The Fifa World Cup 1998 Match Between Iran And United States At Stade De Gerland On June 21, 1998 In Lyon

FIFA fans during the FIFA World Cup 1998 match between Iran & United States at Stade de Gerland, June 21, 1998 in Lyon

Iranian And Us Fans Wave Their National Flags Prior To Their Game At The 1998 World Cup In Lyon, France

Fans from Iran and the USA wave their national flags before they play at the 1998 World Cup. World Cup in Lyon, France 

Although the game was not played timidly, it wasn’t a fierce match. Halfback Claudio Reyna — father of current US midfielder Gio — happily helped Iranian forward Ali Daei up off the pitch after a collision. 

One team had to lose and that was US.

A remarkable performance at the 1994 World Cup, which saw Colombia be upset, was won by the Americans. The CONCACAF began 1998 with Brazil beating the Americans. Gold Cup in February. With several holdovers from four years earlier, and a pair of Premier League keepers — Liverpool’s Brad Friedel and Leicester City’s Kasey Keller — the US appeared ready to turn the corner as a soccer power.

Us Forward Brian Mc Bride (R) Is Challenged By Iranian Midfielder Karim Bagheri

US forward Brian Mc Bride (R), is challenged in Iran by Karim Bagheri

The team was also encouraged by the addition of Predrag Radosavljević, the Yugoslavian-born attacking midfielder known as Preki, who had become one of the MLS’s top scorers.

Despite it all, the Americans fell flat on their face in the group opener against aging Germany, losing 2-0, while giving up a goal to future Team USA coach, Jürgen Klinsmann.

Officially, the 1998 Olympics were ruined by Iran’s second match. World Cup for the USA. The US didn’t have any offensive opportunities despite having the ball for the majority of the match. Iran took advantage of its few opportunities and beat Keller in the 40th minute with a header.

The team was unaware that Iranian government officials visited them at halftime to try and motivate them. 

Steve Sampson, then-US coach, claimed recently to have been Time that he was told by then-Iranian manager Jalal Talebi that players had their passports confiscated by the officials, who told them ‘if they didn’t beat the United States, they were not welcome back into Iran, nor were their families welcome to leave Iran.’

Talebi, however, sent an email to claiming that Sampson’s claim was ‘completely false’ and irresponsible. Talebi stated, “I have never made such statements about Mr. Sampson. This is not real.” 

In either case, Iran put the game away in the 84th minute on a breakaway goal by Mehdi Mahdavikia. 

Team USA was not quite done. Although Brian McBride scored the Americans’ sole goal in the 87th minutes, it wasn’t enough. The US lost their group finale to Yugoslavia, while Iran fell to Germany. 

Iranian Forward Ali Daei (L) Is Challenged By Us Midfielder Cobi Jones As Claudio Reyna Looks On

As Claudio Reyna watches, Ali Daei, the Iranian forward (L), is being challenged by Cobi Jones, the US midfielder.

Then-Us Coach Steve Sampson Told Time About The Locker-Room Meeting Last Week, Describing What He Had Been Told By Iranian Manager Jalal Talebi (Pictured) Following The Game. However, In An Email To, Talebi Has Called Sampson'S Claim 'Completely False And Irresponsible.' Talebi Added: 'I Have Never Made Such Statements To Mr. Sampson, This Is Not Real.'

According To Then-Us Coach Steve Sampson (Pictured), Iranian Officials Came Into The Locker Room, Confiscated Players' Passports, And Said 'If They Didn'T Beat The United States, They Were Not Welcome Back Into Iran , Nor Were Their Families Welcome To Leave Iran

Unknown until recently was that Iranian officials paid a visit at halftime to encourage the players. Time interviewed Steve Sampson (then-US coach) about the locker-room meeting. He described the information he received from Jalal Talbi, Iran manager, following the game. Sampson (right), claims that Iranian officials invaded the locker room and took the passports of the players. He also claimed that they told the players that they weren’t welcome back to Iran if they don’t beat the United States. Talebi, however, sent an email to claiming that Sampson’s claim was ‘completely false’ and irresponsible. Talebi said, ‘I have never made these statements to Mr. Sampson. This is not real.

Us Fans React After The 1998 Soccer World Cup Group F First Round Second Match Against Iran

The reaction of US soccer fans to the 1998 Soccer Cup World Cup Group F, second round match against Iran

Iranian Fans In The Grandstand Celebrate Their 2-1 Victory Over Team Usa In Lyon France On June 21, 1998

Iranian fans celebrating their victory in Lyon France with Team USA by 2-1 on June 21, 1998, in the Grandstand

Hamid Estili Celebrates With Mehdi Pashazadeh And Mehdi Mahdavikia Of Iran After Scoring During The World Cup

After scoring during the Iranian Open, Hamid Estili celebrates after scoring with Mehdi Pahazadeh & Mehdi Madavikia. World Cup

Back in Terhan, thousands of people poured onto the streets, some even without their headscarves.  

Forward Khodadad Azizi said that it was the best game they had ever played. This quote is from The New York Times. “The entire nation was eager for this game, and expected us to win.”

Although the feeling was not as intense among American players, they did not ruin it with their poor sportsmanship. They smiled and shook hands with the Iranian players, before swapping jerseys to cap off a memorable day. 

‘After 20 years, all the scenarios [between Iran and the United States]It was crucial to show that the Iranian propaganda about Iran was false,’ Iran goalkeeper Ahmad Abedzadeh said to reporters. ‘We were courageous. We were fair. It was crucial.

US Defender Jeff Agoos said it succinctly: “We did less in 90 minutes than politicians did in 20-years.”


The 1998 tournament was attended by many Iranian fans, including many who were there this year. World Cup tried to raise awareness on human rights issues back at home but were met by resistance.

France: Iranian dissident Mujahadeen Khalq’s supporters accused the local government in France of allowing secret agents from Tehran into the crowd to search for political enemies.

Qatar, too, is being accused of suppressing dissent against Iran during the year’s elections. World Cup. Cup.

Ayeh Shams, one among approximately 400,000 Iranians in America, stated that they are first-generation Americans. Our parents were Iranian. We are just here to have fun and provide a platform for those Iranians who are fighting against the Islamic government.

It’s not only Iranian fans that have clashed against the government. Sardar Azmoun, the star player, has supported the anti-government protests after the death of Mahsa, a Kurdish-Iranian 22-year-old woman who was wearing her hijab improperly.

Additionally, Team Iran’s roster was banned from protesting at The Olympics World Cup according to Carlos Queiroz, manager

Fans Hold Up A Shirt With The Name Of Mahsa Amini And A Flag Advocating For Women'S Rights Prior To The Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B Match Between Wales And Ir Iran At Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium On November 25, 2022 In Doha, Qatar. People Have Continued Demonstrating In Iran Over The Death Of Mahsa Amini In September. Mahsa Amini Fell Into A Coma And Died After Being Arrested In Tehran By Morality Police, For Allegedly Violating The Country'S Hijab Rules

Fans display a shirt featuring the name MahsaAmini and a flag supporting women’s rights in the years before the FIFA. World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between IR Iran & Wales at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, November 25, 2022. Iran has seen protests continue over Mahsa’s September death. Mahsa was taken into a coma by Tehran’s morality police after he was arrested for allegedly violating country’s hijab regulations.

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