I watched the World Cup match of Iran and Mexico — two peoples with whom Washington is at odds! — on 11 June, with my Iranian friends (mainly men). So I adopted Iran as my team for the day.
Knowing little about Iranian footballers, before the match began, I told my friends to point out to me cute guys on the Iranian squad, so I would know where to direct my gaze. My friends said that Mehdi Mahdavikia is good-looking, though I thought that Vahid Hashemian and Ebrahim Mirzapour (who turned out to be one of the players responsible for Iran’s defeat!) are more appealing. But none of the Iranians is as pretty as Rafael Marquez of Mexico. Naturally, my sympathies were torn. Should I cheer for my adopted team or the cutest guy in the filed? After the President of Iran issued a decree allowing women to attend sports events at stadiums, Iran’s ruling clerics immediately vetoed it: “[W]hen Ahmedinejad made his announcement it forced the clerics to take a position and they said women couldn’t look at the naked legs and arms of the male players” (Jafar Panahi, qtd. in Frances Harrison, “Iran’s Female Fans Yet to Win Equality,” BBC News, 6 June 2006). Aha, only MEN can appreciate the bodies of other MEN! What the clerics truly fear, however, might be that female fans might find guys on the other team cuter than guys on their team.
Iran held its ground in the first half; but, in the second half, the Iranian team was on the defensive from the beginning, and the team’s morale seemed to collapse after Mexico scored its second goal, and then the team allowed Mexico to score a third easily. Mexico beat Iran, 3-1. According to my Iranian friends, that’s typical of Iranian football: losing confidence altogether after losing a little. (I hope that’s not a bad political omen!) Today, Iran played against Portugal. Iran, once again, held its own in the first half: 0-0. But Iran sagged again in the second half: Deco struck in the 63rd minute, and Figo made the penalty kick in the 80th. 2-0, and Portugal earned a spot in the Round of 16.
The way the Iranians are playing, the high point of Iranian footballers will remain their 1998 World Cup victory over the American team in the near future, though it must be mentioned that Iran has not recovered from Ali Karimi‘s injury.
We watched the Iran-Mexico match on ABC, at a viewing party (big screens under a tent outside the Columbus Crew Stadium) provided by the Columbus Crew. It should be noted that, whenever Mexico scored, the camera showed ordinary Mexican men and women jumping up and down and cheering for their team in Mexico City, but it refused to show comparable scenes from Tehran or even the Iranian diaspora when the Iranian team did score its one and only goal that day. That sort of prejudice motivated by American geopolitics, however, did not manifest itself at all among local football fans. Mainly Iranians showed up at the viewing party, but there were also some Mexicans and Somalis (two of the largest immigrant communities in Columbus, Ohio) and Anglos, aside from me and a guy from Bangladesh. During the halftime break, some of them were playing football together, having a good time. “Divide and conquer” doesn’t always work!
Whither Team Melli? Abbas Kiarostami, a renowned Iranian film maker, said: “I hope that we’ll beat Angola at least.” I wished that Iran had been able to get to the Round of 16, despite Mexico and Portugal fielding clearly better and more confident teams, for, as Kiarostami noted, the Iranians “need something to cheer about.”
Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.