Iran’s World Cup breather is over

Lee Smith
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With the United States’ 1-0 victory over Iran Tuesday, the Americans advance to the round of 16 against a solid Dutch side. The Iranians have a short trip from Doha back home, to a terror state run by a paramilitary force whose officers reportedly threatened their families with prison, torture, rape, and death if they made further public displays of protest.

Before their opening round game against England, Iranian players had shown their support for the country’s protest movement when they refused to sing the clerical regime’s anthem. May God now protect them and their loved ones from the revenge of the Pasdaran after a lifeless loss to the Islamic Republic’s arch-foe.

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Aside from striker Christian Pulisic’s brilliant first-half goal on a perfect short cross off a header, the match itself was hardly memorable. The Americans outran their opponents yet failed to capitalize on many chances to put the game away. The last 20 minutes or so deteriorated into a wrestling match with players from both sides fouling recklessly and the losing side going perpendicular like pearl divers in search not of precious gems but penalty kicks.

When soccer great Jurgen Klinsmann observed earlier in the tournament that staged acrobatics combined with special pleading are part of the Iranian side’s style, he was called to account by Team Melli’s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz. He said that the former star of the German national team had "a typical prejudiced judgment of superiority.”

Queiroz it seems has adopted the Islamic Republic’s distinctive rhetoric of grievance. Every country expresses the content of its self-pity in its own fashion. US elites delight in labeling working- and middle-class whites as racists to obscure their well-to-do ancestors’ historical role in first enslaving and then impoverishing African Americans while making fortunes from peddling opium, first to the Chinese and then to their fellow citizens. The IRI’s self-pity is grounded in resentment for not being recognized by the West as a great power standing on the shoulders of a glorious ancient empire, a sentiment it expresses through its global terror campaigns.

Why mix politics with soccer? At every international sporting event, like the World Cup or the Olympics, coaches and players say they want to separate their contests from the enmities of international politics. But sport has been a significant propaganda weapon dating back to the original Olympic games, and no doubt for eons before. Neighborhoods, villages, cities, nations, and peoples have long sought to prove their strength in competitions that have often served as dress rehearsals for war.

Only members of the US coaching staff were alive in 1979 when the young Iranian revolutionaries who stormed the US embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days introduced the world to their fanatical chants promising death to the Great Satan. Many of the US players were born after 1998, the only previous time the US and Iran faced off in the World Cup. Some in the international football press argue that the Iranian squad’s political gamesmanship leading up to that match helps explain the US side’s demoralizing 1-2 loss. The coach of that US team, Steve Sampson, has expressed regret he didn’t stir his team’s patriotism with memories of the hostage crisis. “If I was to do it all over again,” Sampson told ESPN, “I would have used that to our advantage and make it more political with our players.”

This time around, the US Soccer Federation scrubbed the regime’s symbol from the Iranian flag on the US team’s social media accounts in support of the anti-regime protest movement inside Iran. Naturally, Iran demanded that World Cup authorities ban the Americans from the tournament.

In a bizarre press conference prior to the game, an Iranian reporter berated US team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing the country’s name. It’s Eee-ran not Eye-ran, he told the African-American midfielder. Fair enough, and the US footballer thoughtfully took the correction, before he and his coach were pelted with further politicized accusations by the Iranian regime press corps which appeared to have been mobilized en masse and detailed to Qatar. But what if Adams had said, “OK, but the next time you and your fellow regime lackeys chant Death to Amreeka, remember that the name of my country is pronounced ‘AMERICA.’”

Yet what was most notable about US Soccer’s information operation is that it put the team on the other side of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy, which is founded on embracing Iran no matter how often it proclaims its undying hatred for the Great Satan or how many Iranians the regime kills in the streets. The last thing the White House wants is to insult the dignity of the ruling body that has waged war on America for nearly five decades.

Barack Obama said that the Islamic State is not Islamic because of its barbaric atrocities — but he never challenged the name of the equally gruesome Islamic Republic. Biden has recycled Obama officials into his White House to restore the nuclear deal that was his former boss’ signal foreign policy objective. Maybe Biden means it when he says he wants a free Iran. But in the meantime, Biden officials are keen to satisfy the Islamic Republic’s grievances and legitimize its ambitions by making it a nuclear power.

It was not surprising, then, that much of the Washington, DC establishment came out for Team Melli. Washington Post columnist Jason Rezaian wrote that while he was a big supporter of the American squad, he had to root for the Iranians. “The longer Iran stays in [the tournament],” wrote the Iranian-American journalist, “the more recognition its people and their movement will receive.”

Rezaian understands the character of the Iranian regime as well as anyone — it held him hostage for nearly two years in the notorious Evin prison. But his assessment is incorrect. Team Melli’s appearance on the world’s greatest stage served the regime’s purposes by shifting attention away from what it was doing at home to its own children. Otherwise, the Pasdaran would not have warned Iranian players to shut up or see their families suffer the consequences.

Videos, not yet verified by Al Arabiya, have started to appear on social media documenting protestors filling the streets of Iranian cities to celebrate the American victory. Whether they are authentic, the fact remains, now that the Iranian side has been knocked out of the World Cup, the heat is back on the murderous criminal government in Tehran, and its supporters in Washington.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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