Watching the World Cup games, I am reminded of the true definition of an old Persian proverb, “sitting ringside and shouting, ‘knock him out!’” Here I am, a retired tennis player — the only game I competed in — and with limited understanding of soccer, shouting at the Iran goalkeeper, “Catch the ball, you incompetent — bee-orzeh!” Indeed, it’s so easy to sit on the sideline and let your imagination score.
With Iran out of the World Cup, my “football fever” will soon subside, because to be honest, I for one watched with more interest as long as Iran had a chance. Waking up early morning on Saturdays and skipping breakfast just to watch those guys lose has taken its toll on many of us. Onward with our daily lives in “The land of the free”, some of us may even find it in our hearts to forgive those guys for this huge letdown.
On the other hand, equally true, we may have let down our team by not being there to cheer them. After all, they were unaware how many sat in our pajamas in front of a TV or crammed into sport bars just to scream Eeeran, Eeeran! Did the Portuguese team enjoy a form of “home advantage” in a stadium that despite being far from home was packed with fans? I can’t imagine the size of the Iranian crowd if not for a visa problem. Indeed many people traveled long distances to attend, but what about the player’s families, best friends and lifetime fans? Anyone who has ever played serious sports can appreciate the profound energy drawn from the presence of one special person.
It is hard to imagine the dismal mood today’s outcome has brought young Iranians around the world, particularly those in the homeland. As a nation typically in search of true heroes, many hoped this would be an opportunity to shine, even regain respect. But now we revert to humiliation, and are once again deemed as the “Axis of Evil.” As for the players, I don’t think even their coach can fathom the depth of their frustration.
Sad as we may feel over our loss, the pride in our team is undeniable, for only we can appreciate their struggle. Most of these young men are not professional athletes, but working men with a family, responsibilities, and daily problems. Each has faced a litany of miseries, but unlike the Mexican player who received warm support and sympathy for the loss of his father, the Iranian players hold their losses within.
Mere observers, viewers focus too hard on the scoreboard and as a result, fail to distinguish the true game heroes. While the media shines the spotlight on the kicker of an easy penalty, it’s common to miss the true champion in the murky background. Team players like Karimi, who despite persistent pain due to severe injury, continue the game to demonstrate moral support to other players who count on him. Or the captain, who refuses to be carried off the field on a gurney for fear it may discourage his team. As for the goalkeeper, no one seems to care how many times he caught that ball, we only recall the two he missed, and we’ll be sure to remember them for the rest of our lives.
I guess in the end, winning is the most important aspect of any game, but let us not forget that it’s not the only focus. I am proud of our children who managed to shelve bloody wars, survive sanctions and shortages, and yet advance to the World Cup. In time, they will gain even more power and someday we shall see them at the top. No doubt, as the football fever subsides, so will the harsh comments. But for those who can’t control their hostility, here’s another good Persian proverb: Gar to behtar meezani, bestan bezan — If you can play it any better, go ahead, you play!