A nation smiles again
Darya Kabob was in ecstasy;
everyone hugging each other, slaps of high fives everywhere,
resonated at every corner
October 18, 2004
"In all my 24 years as a sports reporter, I have never experienced
such football euphoria than what you see in Iran, not even in South
America. It is unique."
- Bela Rethy , covering the Iran-Germany match for the German
ZDF public television
I have always prided myself on being able to keep my emotions
in check; rarely does anyone break the facial façade I put
on, which entails a face of stern resolve mixed in with a hint
of arrogance. I seldom crack a genuine smile that comes from the
soul, and even more scarce is to see me in tears, either of joy
Granted, there have been a few instances in my lifetime
where I have not been able to control my passions from exhibiting
outside, however, those have been few and far between. Saying
I must stress that I do smile, for I am human after all, and
my life is full of happiness and moments of joy.
But after Iran's
victory over Qatar, an everlasting smile has been imprinted
on my face, so much so that classmates at school, professors,
friends, and those special girls in my life, have all commented
smile that has yet to leave my face. Thus, this story is
the game in itself as a sport, but a tale of my smile and
that of Iran's.
October, 13th, 2004. A smile was re-born on a cloudy day in a
small kabobi restaurant on the outskirts of Virginia with around
thirty of my fellow Iranians. A friend and I, after attending an
Iranian political meeting, made our way to this kabobi, and got
there just in time for the kickoff. I remember most of my fellow
football fanatics that have been on the same rollercoaster ride
with me in following Iranian football this past year, where present.
However, what struck me was the number of new faces that dotted
this small restaurant.
One can pretty much judge the importance
of an Iranian game when beautiful Iranian ladies are also there
in attendance. However, when I entered the building, I entered
another realm, for now my sole concentration was on the game. I
took my seat, said a prayer to myself, and watched the opening
Being the ultimate Iranian football fan, and having followed
it passionately from the personal journey that began in 1997, I
knew not to be overconfident, but this time, after watching Iran
and Germany in a friendly game just four days prior, where Iran
showed to the one hundred thousand plus fans attending in Tehran's
Azadi Stadium, and demonstrated to the world that Iranian football
belongs to the top class of world football.
Hence, I thought Qatar
would be easy to handle, and we had dismantled the Qatari team
months back 3-1 in Iran. Yet in the back of my head, I also knew
to expect the unexpected, especially when Iran plays Arab nations.
We all know Qatar played a role in our 1997 journey when it beat
us in Doha and forced Iran to go through that extra qualification
route through Australia, which in itself was another magical
moment for Iranian football.
I also remember it was Bahrain, another
football minnow who had kicked us out of the 2002 World Cup
and instead Saudi Arabia went to the greatest sporting event mankind
stages every four years. Thus, I had been conditioned to Iran's
underachieving in football and falling apart at moments when
it was all for no
Minute 9. A great pass from what Europeans have pegged,
"Asia's Maradona", Ali Karimi to Bayern
Munich sensation Vahid Hashemian, who being the ultimate
professional player, scores a brilliant
goal and makes it look easy. One nothing to Iran, I was now somewhat
at ease, for Iran was doing what it was supposed to, beating an
opponent not in the same class as Iran.
But this day was not to
be what I had hoped and expected of. Iran is playing awful, the
players look drained, they are soaking wet from the humidity and
heat of Qatar, they are playing lethargic, the passes are not connecting,
and Qatar is attacking. And then goal, goal for Qatar in the 18th
minute, the score is now 1-1, and the way Iran is playing, flashbacks
of 2001 come into mind, where Bahrain used 'grass-rolling'
tactics of faking injuries to kill time, bad referee calls, phantom
calls, where taking place once more.
Time was ticking away and
Iran was attacking, albeit it looked tactic less, and moment
after moment, either bad passing, too much dribbling,
or shots off target
were keeping Iran from taking the lead. The halftime whistle
blows and Iran is forty-five minutes away from elimination
of the 2006
World Cup to be held in Germany.
During halftime, fellow football fanatics and I spoke about the
horrors of the game we were witnessing and how once again it seemed
Iran was 'chocking' and beating itself. In a game where
Iran needed to win to advance to the final round of Asian Qualifying,
it looked to be heading for a draw that would ultimately have Jordan
qualify to the final round. We were all in shock, as this team
that had showcased to the world what Iranian football is all about
against Germany, was now withering away to an opponent not worthy
to be mentioned in the same breath as Iran.
But we all still had hope, for we knew what Iran was capable
The second half, we all witnessed an Iran attacking like there
was no tomorrow, and it seemed that we would crack open the goal
and get once step closer to Germany. But alas, shot after shot,
attempt after attempt, and waves of attack after another were all
bearing no goal. Then it happened, in the 75hth minute, Iran scores
an own goal, Qatar is up 2-1 and now Iran would have to score 2
goals in a span of 10 minutes to keep its hopes alive and the hopes
of the whole Iranian nation alive.
After that goal, I did what
I've never done before, I gave up on the Iranian football
team, I left the restaurant and went outside to breath, I was in
shock, and don't remember most of the emotions I went through,
but water filled my eyes and drowned my soul. A dagger it felt
had plunged deep into my heart and ripped my spirit out. I walked
around dazed outside for a few minutes, and then with some other
Iranians who had exited began to chat and express our anguish.
Then I hear a roar coming from the inside, Iran had tied the
game up 3 minutes later (78th minute), through the brilliance
to Borhani. It seemed Coach Branco Ivancovich had made a substitution
and had brought in the young, Pas FC striker, Arash Borhani, and
he had no sooner stepped onto the field that he punished the Qatari
defense. Now, a rejuvenated Iran had 10 minutes to score the go
I went back into the restaurant, and every Iranian
was on his/her feet, not able to sit down. Another substitution,
young sensation, Iman Mobali was brought in. Iran attacked in such
powerful waves, that it was a miracle Qatar was able to stand this
Iranian blitzkrieg. But alas, time was now becoming Iran's
death, as the minutes closed in, so to it seemed Iran's dreams.
In the 85th minute, Khodadad Azizi was brought in-a player that
had been truly god's gift to the Iranian nation in 1997 when
he scored the goal that took Iran to the 1998 World Cup, graced
the field once more with his presence. Immediately, when I saw
him enter the field, and watched him smile and roar at the players
words of direction and instruction, I felt an ease that with barely
no time remaining, Azizi would once again raise Iran out of the
ashes. Indeed it seemed that would happen when a minute later,
Khodadad scored what seemed to be a goal, but was ruled offside.
The minutes ticked down, then it happened, in the 89th minute,
Azizi receives a pass makes a move to his right, then delicately
with a touch only few players can do, passes to Hamburg star, Mehdi
Mahdavikia to the right who made a run as a wing, Mehdi then gracefully
hits a cross to the incoming Hashemian, and like in slow motion,
Vahid taps the ball into the net, GOOO OOOOO OOOOO OOOOO OOOOO
OOOOO AAAAA AAAA AAAAA LLLLL LLLLL LLLL LLLL!!!!!
Iran had done
the impossible; they had come from two goals down to take the
lead with less then a minute remaining. Darya Kabob was in ecstasy;
everyone hugging each other, slaps of high fives everywhere,
resonated at every corner. One has to be in that atmosphere to
truly feel what I and others did that day, for words do not do
It seemed like deja-vu for me, as eight years ago my father and
I had alongside thousands of Iranians in a pub had been witness
to the Iranian miracle in Melbourne. Now in a different state and
atmosphere and circumstance, I had witnessed another seemingly
impossible comeback. The roller coaster of emotions I went through
that day ended with sheer elation, and on that day, a smile was
re-born, that I have yet gotten rid of.
This smile represents the
hope, joy and rejuvenation that all of us Iranians outside and
inside of our homeland needed, and again can be a springboard
for other great things to come as 1997 too had shown to the world
Iranians what one can achieve. This never-say-die attitude of
our Iranian football team, is a microcosm of what has been in Iran's
culture and history for thousands of years-the will of our people
to survive through the horrible times and come out of it victorious,
was expressed through our Team Melli that day. I could almost
the millions of true smiles form the souls reborn that day
from every corner of the earth.