Football: World Cup - Iranians make exit feeling satisfied

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The Independent Online
IRAN GO home from their second World Cup with a sense of mission accomplished after a politically charged victory over the United States, and a sense of determination to come back stronger next time.

Thursday's 2-0 defeat by Germany was not without its moments for the lively Iranian attack spearheaded by Bayern Munich-bound Ali Daei, and the coach, Jalal Talebi, pronounced himself fully satisfied.

"I'm very happy with the Iranian team's performance. This is good for the future of football in Iran," he said after a game that saw the Germans take control only after a half-time dressing-down from their coach, Berti Vogts.

"We'll gain a lot of experience from this," Talebi said, who took over just before the finals began when the Croatian Tomislav Ivic was fired during a miserable warm-up campaign.

"We've learned a lot," attacking midfielder Karim Bagheri, who plays in Germany for Arminia Bielefeld, said. "I'm sure we'll come back with a stronger team that will compete on a world level. We have to profit from this experience and keep on working. Believe me, we will put this to good use."

Iran, long a leading force in Asian football, first reached the World Cup finals in Argentina in 1978. They earned just a point but impressed many with their skills. A year later the Islamic Revolution and subsequent long war with neighbouring Iraq were to stunt the growth of Iranian football.

Iran only qualified for France 98 on the away goals rule after an extraordinary two-goal comeback in a play-off in Australia. They go out in Group F having beaten the Americans but also having lost to Germany and to Yugoslavia, 1-0.

The cautious opening up of the Islamic republic, notably with the number of players being hired by European clubs, may continue to bring dividends: "Playing in Europe has been very good for our players in making progress and if more come here then I think it will help Iranian football," Daei said.

The wild rejoicing that greeted last Sunday's 2-1 win over Tehran's arch political foe, the USA, leaves little doubt what will be the abiding memory of the tournament for the Iranian public. That victory set off wild celebrations in the country, where the United States has been "The Great Satan" since the Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed Shah in 1979.

"It was a game like any other," the defender Mohammad Khakpour said. "We always go for three points in every game. But what was important for us is that we were here. The main goal was to play well."

The appearance of the national side at the World Cup in France is expected to help revive Iranian football and help it regain the popularity it enjoyed with Iran's first World Cup appearance in Argentina.