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World Cup

The cup that ran empty
Random observations on the Iran-Mexico match


June 11, 2006                                                                                                                    

An hour before today’s game, I thought about the reason why I was willing to give up a day in the sun, after so many rainy days, to watch the Mexico-Iran game. I also tried to fathom why my son would take a break from studying for the finals in order to watch the game -- and why my wife was closing down her Sunday activities to spent ninety plus minutes glued to the screen. As we have done this before with other sport telecasts, the answer was easy to come by:  the occasion serves as a unifying experience in daily lives that are otherwise stretched in every which direction in pursuit of individuated interests.

Unlike cheering for our different baseball, football and basketball teams, today, we were all going to root for Iran. The Sun-and-Lion flag was hanging over the door and my son had managed to drape around his neck the Iranian tricolor with his white, red and green karate belts. I watch the Cup on the Spanish television network, Univision. I like the pre-game shows and the scantily clad ladies bantering soccer trivia with the fans. Besides, since I do not speak Spanish I cannot get annoyed at broadcasters’ comments.

If Iranians of every ilk, ink and inclination gather to celebrate the game is because they so unconsciously and yet unabashedly pine for that which can unite them. Partisanship -- or more accurately, fanaticism (from which derives the word “fan”), is about the need to feel one with others. The various but all the same “Iranian” flags that the stadium crowd waved made the point: In a sea of IRI flags, which I do not recognize personally, were just the tricolor with “Iran” written across the white band (I did not see “Persia” on any flag -- so there!). There were some flags that bore the sun and lion emblem. That is my flag. The country that it represents is IRAN.

When the Mexican national anthem played, the Mexican players held their right arms out in a neo-Roman and pre-fascist style of salute as if they were about to say hello to the Fuhrer himself. What impressed me about the Mexicans, though, was that they all sang (or pretended to sing) their national anthem. By contrast, the sons of the Resolute Nation looked like deer caught in the headlights of a fat SUV -- a few mouthed some words but it was obvious that this team had no anthem to sing. What is the IRI anthem anyway? Did they, do you, know the words to it? I quietly hummed the eternal Iranian anthem, ay iran, and quietly cursed all those among us who deride this song because in their inflated opinion it does not compare with some fucking European standard of “soroud.”

When the teams exchanged greetings I realized this Iranian team is a joke. Typically, before the start of the game the captains from the two teams exchange team banners or pennants. The Mexican team offered the Iranian captain a normal, regular token. The Iranian guy, on the other hand,  presenteds to his Mexican counterpart a framed piece of Iranian tapestry -- a ghalicheh hazrat-e soleiman! Was more like it! I thought this presentation was over the top and therefore ludicrous. More offensive than this display of pos-e aly (hip appearance) was the picture of the Iranian player (No. 10) who from the time that he line up in the tunnel to the time that the teams lined up to play was holding the soccer ball in the palm of his left hand -- showing off in a manner more suited to a basketball player.

The biggest part of the pos-e aly of this team was of course its foreign head coach. Dressed up like an MBA coach, in suite, and looking very un-IRI. In Iran, if you are anybody you have a foreign this and a foreign that. The spectacle of a “European” coach reminded me of how Iranians even in the United States are nothing unless they have a foreign car and dress up in foreign brands. I have written here before and restate on this occasion that Iran’s national team must have an Iranian coach.

This dependence on the foreign “expert” of course is not new and that is why the story of this country in the last fifty years has been one sad chapter after another. The Shah could not hold on to his throne so he takes a “vacation” to Italy while the CIA and British intelligence worked to return him to power. The Ayatollah Khomeini cannot do squat by himself so the French hosted him and Palestinians helped him gain power.

After years of economic isolation, the IRI proclaimed that despite all this deprivation it had managed self-reliantly to enrich uranium, when it is obvious that all its missile and nuclear technologies were obtained form abroad. The Russians are building the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, as the Isfahan steel mill was built by the Soviets. The “opposition” abroad is waiting for George Bush to help it inot power. The “opposition” inside is waiting for the folks outside! The IRI’s creed is Islam, a foreign religion. Its lingua franca is Arabic. Is anything about this country indigenous? Yes, one thing, efadeh! The word means “vanity and boasting” all in one.

For forty-five minutes, the Iranian team held it together with a grand display of energy, hunger and superior command of the field. The tight pass-work inside the triangular advance formations looked impressive. The theatrics of falling and faking were of Oscar-winning quality. Even Karimi’s hogging of the ball and quadruple dribbles produced tactical gains for the team even if he himself was refused at every opportunity to make something of the possession. Because he is well known as an offensive weapon, the Mexicans minded him at times with triple-coverage. This opened up the field to other Iranian players to infiltrate the Mexican half of the field for prolonged periods, taking shots on goal.

The Mexicans scored first and -- in my judgment -- it should have not counted because the scorer was offside. The injustice of it, however, would have been pardonable were it not for the moronic tendency of the Iranian defender and goalie to abandon play waiting for the referee to blow the whistle on the offside. That misjudgment, ladies an gentleman, is exactly why this Resolute Nation will never amount to anything -- because at both individual and societal levels it looks to others to do its work. In any sport, one plays the ball until the whistle blows. One does not count on the whistle as a management tool.

In an equally khar-to-khar (donkey-do circus) setting the Iranian defender Golmohammadi scored Iran’s only goal. Because the word “gol” in Farsi means “flower” and sounds like the word “goal,” this was an interesting lesson in comparative linguistics. As the game headed into halftime, I revisited the results of my research the night before about the name Ivory Coast.

In yesterday’s broadcast, I noticed that the Spanish speakers referred to the country of Ivory Coast as Costa del Marfil. It took a while for me to figure this out and when I did I brimmed with joy. Here was the name of an African country that no doubt took its Spanish name from a word in Old Persian via the Arabic! In Spanish, marfil means “ivory.”  Neither elephant nor tooth or tusk in Spanish or Latin sounds anything like “marfil,” so this suggested to me that this word could not be indigenous to Spanish. Intuitively I separated the part that sounded like fil and considered it from the Old Persian and Sanskrit word pil, meaning elephant. The Middle Persian, Farsi and Arabic of it is “fil.” The Arabic for tusk is senn al-fil, which probably became sem-ar-fil by the time it reached Spain with the he Moors and became “marfil” to the Spaniards, for ivory. How neat is that?  

What was not neat was the un-sportsman-like conduct by an Iranian player, who managed to get a yellow card by not even touching any player. The ball had gone out off the foot of an Iranian player, resulting in a throw-in for the Mexicans. Instead of rolling the ball to the area of the throw in, this Iranian player decided to kick the fucking ball thirty yards down the sideline.

The second half of the Mexican-Iran game was a masterful display of Iranian kaka-football. It was not the fault of the players per se but an indictment of the Iranian management. The Croat who coaches the Iranian team had decided that Iran should defend its tie with Mexico as if a gift from heaven. The whole team came onto the field looking like a bunch of lackluster idiots playing “let's waste time.” It was apparent that this team typically does not play like that: This is a team that built a reputation on being aggressive for 90 minutes straight, win, win, win, goals, goal, goal, relentless. Why suddenly this way?

That go-getter attitude was good against the Asian teams that Iranians do not consider human! This, on the other hand, was the World Cup in which one plays with self-doubt, as if one did not belong in this tournament! The Mexicans read the Iranian insecurity like an open book, and took to the attack. Not surprisingly, their second goal cam off a stupid backward spiral of passes among the Iranians that left the Iranian goalie completely vulnerable.

This is what I do not understand. If the Croat thought a one-one tie with Mexico was a god-sent, did he not know that at the end if Iran were to have any chance to advance to the next round it would have had to have more in its goal differentials? Exactly what did this kaka-strategy serve then? One can play forty-five minutes of defense, but not against an equally por-efadeh (full of itself) team like Mexico.

I had seen enough. By the time Mexico scored its third goal, I was in the backyard working under the sun.

Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea >>> Features in

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