Mexico Tops Iran With 2 Headers
34,289 partisans at Coliseum
BY: Dan Giesin
The San Francisco Chronicle
JANUARY 10, 2000,
Iran's first-ever soccer match in the United States was something of
a bittersweet affair: The Iranian team's gracious and warm reception by
the 34,289 ensconced at Network Associates Coliseum yesterday was tempered
by a 2-1 loss to Mexico. (Related photos here)
"This was a great experience for us," Iran coach Mansour Pourhaidari
said through an interpreter. "We played against one of the best teams
in the world, and we will take advantage of this opportunity to improve
Neither Pourhaidari nor the two players made available to the media
after the match commented on the fans, but they couldn't have been displeased
with the noise and to-do created by their numerous supporters, who appeared
to outnumber the backers of the Mexican side. Every time Iran went on the
attack, the fans continuously chanted, "Iran! Iran!" as the ball
was worked toward the Mexican goal. Not to be outdone, the people supporting
the Tricolores blew their horns and waved their flags to counter the din
brought about by the Iranian fans.
"We came here to give a spectacle," Mexico coach Manuel LaPuente
said through an interpreter. "I can say I am pleased with the way
we played and the happiness we brought to the fans."
However, the game, played by two teams looking further down the line
than yesterday's relatively meaningless exhibition match, was not one to
store in the "memorable-game" file. Both Mexico and Iran brought
sides that were generally youthful and relatively inexperienced, hoping
to give these players some match experience before heading into Olympic
-- and, later, World Cup -- qualifying. Still, both teams fielded a handful
of proven veterans to help the youngsters.
"I was surprised at first when I saw Iran's roster," LaPuente
said. "I saw that they were well-equipped. That's why I brought four
experienced players to (Oakland)."
Two of LaPuente's most experienced and dangerous players -- the forward
tandem of Luis Hernandez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco -- caused all sorts of havoc
with the Iranian defense. It was no surprise that these guys also figured
in the scoring.
In the third minute, a foul deep in the Iranian end set up a free kick
for Mexico, and Juan Pablo Rodriguez sent the ball into the middle of the
penalty area. Hernandez, stationed smack in the middle of the goalie's
box, dived headlong for the ball and redirected it toward the far post.
Iran goalie Hadi Tabatabei couldn't adjust to the ball's change of direction,
and it sailed into the back of the net.
Mexico went up 2-0 15 minutes later on a mirror-image goal. Again Rodriguez
set up for a free kick, but on the opposite side of the penalty area. His
pass into the middle found Blanco's head, and the Mexican forward sent
it whizzing past Tabatabei and into the far corner.
"Our main problem today was the two set plays that led to the goals,"
Pourhaidari said. "It was an uphill battle after that."
The Iranian fans seemingly were undiscouraged by their team getting
into an early hole, and they continued to loudly cheer their team. The
players responded eight minutes later.
Midfielder Esmaeil Halali was working the ball along the far side of
the Mexican penalty area, where he was fouled by defender Ramon Ramirez.
Referee Ricardo Valenzuela, an American, signaled, rightly, for a penalty
kick, and forward Ali Daei juked goalie Cristian Martinez and sent the
ball into the left corner of the net.
The Iranians played the Mexicans on equal terms for the remainder of
the game, and though the match was fought more in the respective opponents'
ends than in the midfield, neither side could break through.
"We made the changes we needed to make, but the results were not
what we were looking for," Pourhaidari said. "However, I feel
very good about the way the boys came back and made a game of it."
LaPuente, too, also generally liked what he saw on the field.
"I'm very happy with the way we played our first game of the year,"
he said. "I'm very pleased with the performance of the players. My
feeling is that it was an excellent game."