Tuesday 05 April 2022, 10:00

Lyon memories spur Team Melli

  • IR Iran recorded a very special win over USA at France 1998

  • The nations will have a FIFA World Cup reunion in Qatar

  • Team Melli are aiming to reach the knockout phase for the first time

IR Iran are set for their sixth FIFA World Cup™ adventure. Currently the top Asian nation on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, they previously appeared at the tournament in 1978, 1998, 2006, 2014 and 2018. Team Melli failed to record a win on their World Cup debut in 1978, but their maiden victory came the next time they qualified. At France 1998, under coach Jalal Talebi, they went down 1-0 in their opening match to Yugoslavia before facing USA in their second outing. This match grabbed the headlines at the time, and not just on the sports pages, due to the political tensions between the two countries. Fans in Lyon who got to attend the evening game were treated to a defining moment in sport. Together with referee Urs Meier, the two teams posed for a photograph before kick-off, while the Iranian players gave the opposition players flowers as a gesture of peace.

Iranian player Mehdi Mahdavikia scored the second goal for his team v USA 1998

The match itself was an example of fair play, with Iran triumphing 2-1 thanks to goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia, who would go on to play in the Bundesliga. Brian McBride pulled a late goal back for the Americans, but it was too little, too late. After the final whistle of what was a thrilling contest, the solidarity inherent in football was once again on display as the players congratulated one another and exchanged jerseys. The group stage was as far as either team would go on this occasion, with Germany and Yugoslavia making it through to the Round of 16 instead. The same fate befell the Iranians at the World Cups of 2006 and 2014, when they again went out in the group stage, each time having picked up a solitary point. At Russia 2018, Team Melli performed admirably, beating Morocco 1-0, losing to Spain by the same scoreline, and drawing 1-1 with Portugal. Unfortunately, a 3-3 draw between the Iberians didn’t help their cause and they just missed out on the knockout phase.

At Qatar 2022, Iran will be eager to go one better. Group B will see coach Dragan Skocic’s team face the winner of the European play-offs between Scotland, Ukraine and Wales, England and USA in a repeat of that iconic match from France 1998. In what promises to be an exciting group, the three points up for grabs in that latter match could well decide if one of those two teams makes it through. Led by star players Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen) and Mehdi Taremi (Porto), the Iranians will be looking to secure a second World Cup win over USA on 29 November and celebrate qualification for the Round of 16 for the first time in their history.