Football: Iran rebuff American invitation

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IRAN HAVE turned down an invitation to play friendlies in the United States in June but are considering travelling there in January, the Iranian news agency IRNA has reported.

"Our federation has rejected the US soccer federation's invitation," the agency quoted the Iran federation's head, Mohsen Safaei Farahani, as saying. "America's soccer federation has subsequently invited Iran's national team to travel to America in January 2000, to which Iran's soccer federation has not responded yet," he added.

In November, the Iranian head coach, Mansour Pourheidari, said Iran were likely to accept the American invitation to play friendlies, but details still had to be worked out.

Iran beat the United States 2-1 in their World Cup group match in Lyon in June, sparking a massive outpouring of joy across the Islamic republic. World football's governing body, Fifa, subsequently awarded the teams, together with Ireland, its 1998 Fair Play prize for their sportsmanship in the match.

It was the first top-level sporting contact between the two countries since they broke diplomatic ties after the 1979 revolution which toppled the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Hostile bilateral relations have thawed since a moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, called for grassroot exchanges early last year. The exchanges have included a visit by a US wrestling team to Iran in February 1998.