Iran's storied push to win a record fourth Asian Cup ended Tuesday. Sitting here crushed, I decided to write not about the game but my experience with my fellow Iranians who like me for the past two weeks, put their life on hold to cheer not just our football team, but Iran.
In our loss in the semi-finals to host China:
-I won't even mention the referee giving Satar Zareh a unwarranted red card, and refusing to whistle the game fair and let both teams play at full strength.
-I won't mention how a team like Iran would play defensively against a team it could crush by at least 3 goals, the tactics in this team the drive and push were not there from minute 1.
-Hejazi and Parvin meant when they said that in the IRI, Iran plays up to half its potential (won't get into that).
-I won't mention the fact that Golmohammadi went for the worse penalty kick ever and even try to answer the question as to why Branco even chose him to be the fifth kicker or even Mobali the fourth(we had pro players as witnessed with Mahdavikia) that could've taken them instead of Mobali and especially Golmohammadi.
-Congratulations to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as it wanted to see either China or Japan win the cup and it's pushing and prodding finally came to fruition.
-Congrats to the IRI for the streets of Iran are empty today. Now back to the experience in a small town near Washington D.C, where my second home was based for two weeks.
From 3 am to 6 am to 9am we, I'd say about five to six of us, came together in the mornings to cheer our team melli. We were from all walks of life, different age groups, from teenagers, to twenty year olds, middle age compatriots and grandfathers. Each of us brought with us a diversity of life experiences and thoughts, but one thing united us, our passion for Iran.
Before this cup, I didn't know any of them, yet we all came together, like we were lifetime friends. Prior to each game we exchanged what we thought about the team, during the game we all became one, analyzing the game, yelling at the telli for mistakes, cursing our lungs out. And when Iran scored, the joy one felt at this little kabobi was pure love for our fatherland.
During these weeks, I had put my life on hold, work was second priority, my social life took a backseat, I drank, ate, and thought only of Iranian football. I was glad to see that I was not alone the core of our group of five to six guys whom like myself lived Iran's dream of winning the fourth Asian Cup and solidifying Iran's place as the best in Asia. We analyzed everything, and after each game, looked forward to the next.
From the beginning I had a good feeling things would go good, as Iran through the individual talents of our players took care of Thailand easily 3-0. Next up Oman, my good friend from Boston came for the Oman game. That prior to the semi-finals was one of the worse displays of football I had seen. I can still remember the fight between Rezaie and Badavi. It seemed all was lost, Iran was gone for good, where was the team everyone expected to see?
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLL!!!!! When Iran scored in the final minute to basically send us to the Quarterfinals, Darya Kabob exploded, cheers, hugs and high fives all around. Not only was team melli given a second chance to re-group and take it to the other teams, but Darya Kabob and our group got a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.
As Iran advanced and its play came to represent what we all knew Persian football to be, as witnessed in the draw against Japan, more and more people came to watch the games at Darya Kabob. For the quarterfinals against fellow Asian football powerhouse, South Korea, at least thirty to forty people showed up. These fans got to see and experience what the core at Darya had been experiencing for the past two weeks. They went through the ups and downs of the game, and at the end, felt the same joy we did with Iran's strong victory.
That South Korea game in which Iran beat the 2002 World Cup fourth place team showcased not just to Asia but the world what Iranian football is all about. With our team that was missing a core of its players due to injuries, suspensions, and omission, Iran's team at half strength still took it to the South Koreans. We were all proud of that game; Iran's talents were shown to the world, Persian football it seemed was making its comeback, and with a vengeance. A glow of pride could be seen in the core of us at Darya, who had seen it all with this team. Could it be that Iran would win it all, with this kind of display of world class football?
Then the semi-finals, where was the Iran team we all knew could crush this second tier Asian team at ease? It was obvious that the whole Asian confederation(AFC) was against Iran, as witnessed in the harsh penalties put on our players after the Oman game and the lack of punishing other teams that committed acts ten times worse then Iran. Whatever the case, our boys gave blood and sweat to pull one out for the homeland, down to ten men due to a red card that was not warranted.
Playing in a hostile atmosphere where the Arab referee was doing all to make sure China advanced to the finals, our boys gave it a fight and through it all, the core at Darya Kabob almost knew the inevitable, we as 'arm-chair' coaches knew Iran was going to fall. Nevertheless, the penalties came, we all got up, like our team, arm around each others soldiers we waited and saw as Mirzapour made a save, Iran was up-could it be possible that with the world against Iran and at all odds we would get to our rightful place in the finals?
Alas, that was not to be, we watched as Mobali struck the post, and then Golmohammadi in the oddest penalty kick gave the ball to the Chinese keeper, and with that it was over. A numbness I think struck us all. I sat in a chair in the back and put hand in face; shocked others too did the same, while some left to go outside. The emotions of, bewilderment, anger and sadness could be felt all around. It was over, Iran's run ended, and again we and the millions of Iranians in Iran and around the world were crushed. So close yet so far.
Through it all, I'd like to thank the core of Darya Kabob that like myself put themselves at the disposal of watching team melli play, who like me showed what it is to be a true fan of not just Persian football, but Iran in general. To you guys, I thank you, the camaraderie and brotherhood shown at this small kaboby is but an icon of what it means to be Iranian.
As I finish this piece, my soul exhausted, my mind perplexed, filled with anger, rage and disappointment, I look forward to September 8th, where our team faces the biggest game of Iranian football in recent history, if we don't beat Jordan in Amman, Iran will not qualify to the World Cup 2006 to be held in Germany. But before that time comes, I take this time to cool off, and hope for better days for Iranian football and our nation in general.