Former US coach Steve Sampson has alleged that the Iranian government intervened during halftime of their 1998 World Cup game, saying officials confiscated the Iranian team’s passports and threatened their safety if they failed to beat the US.
Iran won the group stage match 2-1 in Lyon, dubbed “the mother of all games” by Hank Steinbrecher, executive director of the United States Soccer Federation, following the World Cup draw due to long-standing political tensions between the two countries.
They meet again on Tuesday, with both teams needing a win to progress to the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar.
But address TIMEUS coach Sampson has detailed his memories of the highly fraught event, including one extraordinary detail.
Sampson claims Iran’s manager, Jalal Talebi, told him that Iranian government officials confiscated players’ passports at half-time, with Iran leading 1-0.
And apparently players were told “if they don’t beat the United States, they weren’t welcome back in Iran, nor were their families welcome to leave Iran.”
Steve Sampson claimed that Iranian government officials took their players’ passports at halftime, saying, “If they don’t beat the United States, they are not welcome back in Iran, nor were their families welcome to leave Iran.”
Iran led 1-0 against the United States at halftime before rising to a famous 2-1 win
FIFA procedure dictated that Team B – Iran – walk to Team A, USA, and shake hands, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened to take Team Melli out of the tournament.
A compromise was made whereby American players instead went over to their counterparts and shook hands before standing next to each other for a pregame photo
Iranian players also gave American players white roses during their trade — a symbolic gesture of peace.
During the game, the USA had their chances, but Iran eventually prevailed 2-1 in their second group game. It was not an opportunity for those involved to claim three points.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened to pull Iran out of the tournament if they shook hands
Iran took the lead in the first half and American goalkeeper Kasey Keller couldn’t keep the ball out
Fans sat shoulder to shoulder at the Gerland Stadium, despite the political tensions in their country
“It became very, very clear that for Iran that was much more than a football game,” Alexi Lalas, an unused substitute in the game, and now a FOX Soccer pundit, told TIME.
“They used that in a way we didn’t.” Sampson and several players on the roster cried in the aftermath of their defeat.
“It was a complete fiasco and failure and embarrassment”
Before the game, the US took an apolitical approach despite the scenery, opting to focus solely on the sporting aspect of the game, with Sampson agreeing to requests from FIFA, the organizers and the US Federation.
Something he deeply regrets afterwards. “I went along with that,” he said. “In hindsight, I should have made it about politics.
The US defeat to the Arab nation eliminated the USMNT from the World Cup knockout stages
USA coach Steve Sampson listened to requests from FIFA & USSF to take an apolitical stance. He resigned after the World Cup after the USA finished last out of 32 teams.
Fans from both countries came to the tournament and were seen side by side in photos
It is a coach’s job to use all the resources at his disposal to prepare his team.
“So many Americans have been hurt so dramatically by the Iranian regime,” Sampson continued. “We could have played for them.”
Sampson resigned after the World Cup after the USA finished last out of 32 teams.
The loss in Iran prevented them from progressing – a double blow to both the team and the coach.
Iranian players celebrate during the match being played in Lyon, the French capital, located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region
Iran and the United States meet again Tuesday afternoon ET, with both teams needing a win to advance to the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar.
Claudio Reyna, whose son Gio plays for the current US team, celebrated Brian McBride’s late consolation goal, but it was too little, too late for the Stars and Stripes squad
The revelation comes just days before the nations go head-to-head in an equally pivotal game with the USMNT in a must-win situation.
Gregg Berhalter’s side are on two points after drawing with Wales and England, while Iran have three – one less than group leaders England – after a late victory over Wales on Friday.
Some things may have changed and yet, 24 years later, the US needs to sparkle if it is to avoid devastation from Iran again.
Iran and the US clash at 2pm ET on Tuesday, November 29 at Al Thumama Stadium in Qatar.
Players from both countries lined up side by side in a show of peace prior to the match
England’s draw with old rivals England has led to a must-win clash against fellow foe Iran on Tuesday
Some things may have changed and yet, 24 years later, the US needs to shine if it is to avoid another devastation from Iran – which is hot after a 2-0 victory vs. Wales