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Asia Champions, 1999. Photo from Tamashagaran

On the ball
Comparing the Iranian and U.S. soccer teams

By Amir Aras
June 30, 1999
The Iranian

At present

The strike was amazing. Like more than 40,000 other people in the stadium, I was stunned by Joe-Max Moore's goal in the 88th minute against Argentina, ranked 7th in the world. Beating Argentina after embarrassing third-ranked Germany (3-0) and Chile (2-1) in the last few months, is quite impressive for a team which ended up dead last in World Cup 98.

Instead of watching the U.S.-Argentina game, I was supposed to paint my face green, white and red and cheer for my national team against the U.S. at Washington's RFK stadium. But the Iranian team chose to play in the Canada Cup instead. They beat Canada, ranked 93rd, tied with Guatemala, ranked 73rd, and captured second place after Ecuador, ranked 55th!

I hope the Iranian team will finally come here and we could dance on the roof of our cars in Georgetown! But I guess someone in the Iranian soccer federation has recognized that our team is not ready to play against the U.S. just yet. Maybe politics had something to do with it too. But there are always doubts about whether our team is properly coached and managed. When was the last time we were ready for any big game or tournaments? Well, once, and only once!

Day before yesterday

Soccer is war! To win a war you have to be prepared, head to toe. After three championships in Asia and giving a hard time to European teams in the Olympics, Iranian players packed their bags to show their power in World Cup 78. That team had an up-to-date knowledge of the game and had trained hard under top foreign coaches. The players had gone through soccer schools and followed short and long programs on the soccer calendar. The result was the best national team in our history. At the time, the tie with Scotland -- with its great players -- was worth more than the emotional win over the U.S. 20 years later.

After WC 78 , Iran went through a revolution and eight years of war. The Iranian soccer team never got a chance to recruit fresh legs. Many young talented players went to waste. The national team was practically abandoned. All it had was Azadi stadium, a huge structure that no one cared for. It took more than 15 years just to fix its broken clock! No organization, no knowledge of new tactics, no preparation. Nothing. A few players tried to resurrect Iran as Asia's top team, but their individual talent was not enough. How many games can you win with energy and enthusiasm alone? Not many.

If we look at the history of the U.S. soccer team, we might learn something. In 1963 the U.S. team lost to Brazil 10-0 and 8-1 to Argentina. In 1975 Italy beat them 10-0 too. But since then things have changed. The Americans beat Brazil in 1998 (1-0), Argentina in 1999 (1-0), and they tied with Italy in 1992 (1-1). Why? I'll just mention two things American sports teams are very good at: organization and preparation.


Even after the miracle in Sydney and capturing the last spot for WC 98 as the third team from Asia, the Iranian team's preparation was limited and unorganized. In order to get prepared for the World Cup we played against five national teams:

1-0 against 61st-ranked Nigeria (away)

1-0 against 23rd-ranked Chile (away)

2-1 against 42nd-ranked Hungary (home)

1-0 against 40th-ranked Jamaica (home)

2-0 against 6th-ranked Croatia (away)

It took Iranian fans 20 years to see their national team against an European team (Hungary and Croatia) ! And that was just a few weeks before playing against the champion of Europe: Germany. Meanwhile, six months before the most important tournament in the world, Iranian soccer officials spent most of their time finding, firing and finding coaches.

On the other hand, what did the Americans do? They not only beat soccer super power Brazil (1-0), they played 11 other games, including six against European teams (Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Scotland, and Macedonia), on their way to WC 98.

The day

Everything was in favor of the Iranian team, from the posts and crossbar to the strategy of the U.S. head coach.

Result: Iran 2- U.S. 1.... Sweet!

The day after

After team USA's terrible result in WC 98, their coach Steve Sampson was replaced with Bruce Arena who had led DC United to two Major League Soccer championships. He focused on rebuilding and improving the national team. Although the coach is still not happy, the result so far has been impressive.

Looking at the U.S. record after WC 98 shows how competitive they have become:

0-0 against 54th-ranked Australia (home)

0-0 against 50th-ranked Bolivia (away)

3-0 against 3rd-ranked Germany (home)

2-1 against 23rd-ranked Chile (home - U.S. Cup)

3-1 against 73rd-ranked Guatemala (home - U.S. Cup)

2-1 against 13th-ranked Mexico (home)

1-0 against 7th-ranked Argentina (home)

Meanwhile, Iranian players celebrated their winning of the Asian Games title by beating teams such as Laos and Tajikistan, (and losing to Oman!) in the absence of Saudi Arabia.

After WC 98, and losing a friendly game to Kuwait (3-0), we had eight games with second and third-rate teams at the Asian Games, and three games with second and third-rate American teams at the Canada Cup:

2-0 against 115th-ranked Kazakhstan

6-0 against 156th-ranked Laos

2-5 against 85th-ranked Oman

5-0 against 127th-ranked Tajikistan

2-1 against 53-ranked China

4-0 against 84th-ranked Uzbekistan

1-0 against 53rd-ranked China

2-0 against 49th-ranked Kuwait

1-1 against 55th-ranked Ecuador

1-0 against 93,rd-ranked Canada

2-2 against 73rd-ranked Guatemala

Still no games with any European teams in the last 18 months! Not even a game with any team ranked in the top 50!


Will the U.S., currently ranked 24th, continue its path to success and become one of the top 10 teams in the world? After completing three successful professional soccer seasons and attracting foreign players and, more importantly, sponsors, the U.S. is making all the right moves to get to the top. Soccer is now the most popular sport among American kids. It's only a matter of time...

Now my question is, will MY team, the Iranian national team, find a steady path to success even in Asia? Like most of you, I love our team. But watching a few players who want to save their legs for foreign clubs does not give much pleasure anymore. And what about the team's managers? Do they know what they are doing?

This is not soccer.

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