domenica 22 giugno 2014

Football matters in Iran

The history of football in Iran from the early beginnings dates back to the 1920s. But their National team didn’t reach the bigger football world stage until the ‘70s. In fact, it was in 1978 that Team Melli, as it is called by Iranians, took its place into a World Cup tournament. It was in 1978, when the World Cup was held by the military junta of General Videla in Argentina. Iran’s appearance wasn’t so glorious as they didn’t score any point out from a group stage including Netherlands, Scotland and Peru. By the way, Iran left its trademark contributing to add shame to  Ally's tartan army by earning a point in the game against Scottish. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, football took a huge step back in Persia. With the infamous Iran-Iraq War going through, Iranians had other things to worry about. Both people and domestic football suffered the effects of conflict. In the mid ‘90s,  a lot of skillful players raised up into Iranian football scene, leading Team Melli to their second World Cup berth in 1998. It was the generation of Karim Bagheri, Khodadad Azizi, Mehdi Mahdavikia, and Ali Daei. Iran once again failed to go out from the group stage but their 1998 experience was highlighted by the victory over USA. It was more than a simple a game. At the same time, with a higher number of Iralian footballers going overseas, Iranian football is growth. There is evidence as Team Melli have qualified for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Thousands of Iranians drawn  into the streets to celebrate their heroes. Iranians see World Cup as a chance to restore their national pride. A huge credit goes to Portuguese head coach Carlos Queiroz. Former Real Madrid coach and Alex Ferguson’s assistant achieved a lot of results since he was appointed in 2011. A life under sanctions made though Iran’s approach to Brazil: the national federation was plagued by financial issues and it drastically reduced the number of friendly games against top level teams Team Melli played. Usually perceived as an underdog team, Iran will have to face a hard task to beat Bosnia and Nigeria in the way to advance into the World Cup second stage. Many of Iran’s hopes to get out of the group are based on Dutch- Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad as Charlton Athletic’s forward is Team Melli’s main threat. Football meaning goes over the field. On June 17, 2009, six players of a Team Melli playing a World Cup qualifier against South Korea hit the field wearing green wristbands.  For many Iranians, a sign of solidarity with the protesters of Green Movement. Football continues to be highly politicized in Iran, as Wikileaks too stated: “the Iranian government worries that public unrest over a Team Melli loss could add fire to the increasingly volatile [pre-election] political demonstrations that have paralyzed Tehran in recent nights.”  The 1998 and 2006 public celebrations burned up into the streets following National Team’s qualifications to the World Cup, with women removing their hijabs, raised concerns between Iranian politicians. Whether or not Iran will play successfully into the field, this World Cup campaign will help Iranians to change their worldwide image. Or it is to be hope by Persian politicians. Hassan Rouhani, the Iran president, twitted a photograph of himself wearing an Iranian team shirt. He also took to Twitter to praise Team Melli’s 0-0 draw with Nigeria in their World Cup opener. With over 60 percent of Iran's 73 million people being under 30 years old, football is becoming a significant part of Iranian culture. Surely, some things remains to be fixed. Women are still be forbidden by law from attending football games as the brilliant Offside movie, directed by Jafar Panahi, showed in 2006 and despite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s will to allow women to attend national football matches. This move was quickly opposed by the religion supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the ban reinstalled. In 2007, FIFA forced Mohammad Aliabadi, head of the athletics in Iran, to withdraw from his position after he violated FIFA rules which prohibit governmental interference in the game. Aliabadi fired the head of the Iranian Football Federation after the poor performances of Team Melli at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. That said, you know how football and politics are linked in Persia. Former president Ahmadinejad’s love for football is well known. In 2012, he lost political elections and also suffered a huge blow when he wasn’t able to impede the re-election of Iranian Football Federation president Ali Kafashian. In the 2009 he ensured the firing of former star Ali Daei as Team Melli’s coach. All the requests to separate the game from politics cause to be fruitless. We don’t know if Iran’s campaign at 2014 Brazil World Cup will be successful or not. And who knows if Team Melli’s performances on the field will become a pretext for politics-related demonstrations. For sure, we know that football and politics has been strictly related in Iran. And they continue to be.

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