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Sunday, June 21, 1998 Published at 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK


World: Middle East

'Great Satan' defeated 2-1

Iranian football fans party in the build-up to the match

Iran has beaten the United States 2-1 in one of the most widely-anticipated matches of the World Cup.


BBC Tehran Correspondent, Jim Muir: Iran's football fever
Bitter political adversaries, the countries have had no diplomatic relations for 20 years. But just before kick-off, the players exchanged gifts and posed for a joint photograph.

The Iranians handed their opponents bouquets of flowers, while the Americans presented the Iranians with pennants.

Iranian television covered the game live, but did not show the pre-match friendly gestures. Meanwhile, despite a ban by the French authorities, exiled members of the Iranian opposition staged a small demonstration in the stadium.

They held up a banner bearing a photograph of a leader of the National Council for Iranian Resistance, Maryam Rajavi.

Security stepped up

When the two teams were drawn in the same group it was expected that the match could lead to politically-motivated unrest.

A few hours before the start of the game in the French city of Lyon security was stepped up.

Road blocks were set up a good distance outside the stadium's boundaries and there was a major police presence throughout the area.


Listen to the radio version of Jim Muir's report from Tehran
In the centre of Lyon, there was a carnival atmosphere as Iranian and American supporters prepared for the match with flag-waving and good-natured rivalry.

Both football coaches were anxious to avoid any statements that go beyond pure sport.

Iranian coach Jalal Talebi said he expected his team to play hard against the US, but to accord them the same kind of courtesy as they would to other World Cup soccer teams.

United States President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have used the occasion to discuss the possible resumption of diplomatic relations.


[ image: Tehran is gripped by football fever]
Tehran is gripped by football fever
Inside the stadium, the French authorities banned inscribed flags and banners to stop Iranian exiles opposed to the Islamic regime from causing a disruption.

Both teams lost their opening games and needed to win to stay in the tournament.

Iran is also the only Asian nation remaining with a chance to progress through to the second round.

Sporting diplomacy

Many commentators compared the match to the so-called ping-pong diplomacy that characterised the early stages of reconciliation between Mao's China and the US in the early 1970s.

Then an American table tennis team was invited to compete in China - where they were decisively thrashed by their hosts.


Ann Swardson of The Washington Post is in Lyon:
US State Department Spokesman James Rubin said such sporting exchanges "are all part of the process of two peoples getting to know each other better after a long period of isolation."

Moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has also expressed his support for non-governmental exchanges as a way of improving ties. In 1997 an American wrestling team became the first US athletes to visit Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.


US President Bill Clinton on his hopes for the match
Iran was expected to come to a halt during the match. The judge in the trial of Tehran's mayor on corruption charges even postponed the day's scheduled hearings.




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