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Soccer: Iranians arrive with offence

Joanne Ireland
Journal Soccer Writer
Edmonton Journal
June 1, 1999

The street urchins would dribble the ball with a flair unique to the province of Khuzestan -- the Brazil of Iran and the province where British oilworkers first introduced soccer to the country.

It was there, in Khuzestan, in the city of Khoramshahr, where Ali Mousavi first toddled after a soccer ball.

It would, however, be in another quadrant of the country where he would learn to one-touch passes and create opportunities and finish his

Mousavi was five when the war with Iraq broke out. Before long, he was fleeing northeast with his family to Mashad.

Their old home was destroyed. So too was the southwestern city.

For eight years, the war raged on but always, said Mousavi, there were street games to play.

Mousavi, now a 24-year-star in the Azadegan League -- a league named after the prisoners of war -- is in Edmonton this week with the Iranian team.

The national sides from Canada, Iran, Guatemala and Ecuador are here to contest the Canada Cup of Soccer.

This marks Iran's second trip to North America, their second appearance in Canada.

In 1997, Iran played the Canucks before an crowd of 15,325 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium.

The majority of the game-goers were expatriots."Prior to our arrival in Canada, we had no idea whatsoever that we would be received that way," said Mousavi through an interpreter."When we met those fans and the fans met us and we exchanged stories, we realized we all cared about Iran the country."

Wherever we go, regardless of the country, we have been warmly welcomed by Iranian fans, but that game has a special place with all of us."

It was the first time a group of people had close contact with the team. And soccer is our passion. Through football, they all come together regardless of their background. It makes them one again."

Mousavi is a poster boy for the post-war generation, another player who would make his debut at the Asians Nations Cup in 1996.

That tournament not only marked Mousavi's first major international appearance, but it was also a sign that Iran was re-emerging on the world scene. Two years later, after a 20-year absence, Iran was in the World Cup.

Said Ali Daei: "From a personal standpoint, my appearance at the World Cup really didn't have much impact. Soccer fans around the world knew of me."But the World Cup was a platform for Iranian football.

It re-introduced our football to the world.

"Daei, the country's distinguished goal scorer, was one of the pioneers to play abroad, joining Karim Baheri and Kodadad Azizi.

Today, there are 14 playing with first division teams. Whenever they slip back into their national team jerseys, Iranian fans will converge.

About 1,800 of the tickets sold for the Canada Cup have been sold to Iranian supporters.

They will arrive from Vancouver and Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Tennessee.

Two are even making the trip from the United Arab Emirates.

The Cup was recently dealt a marketing blow when Costa Rica and the Brazilian Olympic team were scratched from the lineup.

That created openings for Guatemala and Ecuador and elevated Iran's stock.

No team scored more goals than Iran on the road to the World Cup -- a total of 57 goals in 17 matches, including a 17-0 rout over the Maldives.

Iran finished 19th in the quadrennial event, then received FIFA's Fair Play Award, an honour they shared with the U.S."Iran has far more potential," said Mousavi."In order to realize that, the infrastructure has to be looked at.

The war for 10-12 years stopped any progress and Iran fell behind the rest of the world. Now we are at the catching-up stage."With more players going to Europe, Iran football will progress further and further."

Months after the war ended, Iran and Iraq met in a four-nations tournament in Kuwait.

It was called the Peace Cup and the teams tied 1-1. Two years later, the Azadegan League was formed.

Mousavi, living in Tehran where his team is based, often plays before crowds of 120,000. But again, he is about to move on. He too is heading to the German first division.


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