Football,  Iran

Iranian Regime Unlocks World Cup Strategy Secret

This is a crosspost by Ben Cohen of Z Word.

One of the tell-tale signs of a regime in distress is that its top officials begin sounding off on subjects quite removed from their remit. So it is with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who claims to have discovered the reason behind the exit of France, England and the United States from the World Cup.

Was it the seething discord in the French camp spilling onto the field? Was it England’s defensive failures compounded by the nasty habit of engaging in “kick and rush?” Was it the US tendency to play catch-up by, more often than not, conceding early goals?

No, it was none of those things, according to Mottaki.

“In this World Cup you see a meaningful correlation between politics and diplomacy and football,” Mottaki was quoted as saying by Tehran Emrouz newspaper. “Those who played a key role in new sanctions against Iran such as America, England and France were eliminated in the early stages and some countries that were somehow involved in sanctions did not get into higher rounds.”

Well, no, actually.

Germany, The Netherlands and Spain are all still in the contest and are all members of the European Union. The EU has played a key role in pushing new sanctions against Iran. So Mottaki may have to come up with another theory. Something about the ball and the altitude in South Africa, perhaps?

Mind you, this isn’t the first time that the Iranian regime has interfered in the affairs of football. In April last year, after the Iranian team failed to qualify for the World Cup, I noted the following:

I’ve seen the Iranians play impressive football in the past, but on this occasion, the action off the field was more compelling. This being Iranian TV, every time the ball went out of play, even for a second, the cameras would sweep to the Presidential box, where Ahmadinejad and his unsmiling cronies sat looking thuggish and self-important. Whether or not you were actually in the stadium, there was no forgetting Mahmoud’s presence in the house.

As Saudi Arabia snatched a 2-1 victory, I remembered the story of how Saddam Hussein’s son Udai ordered the feet of the Iraqi national team to be whipped after they lost a vital match. Defeated in this crucial qualifier, Iran, which has played in the last three World Cup tournaments, has virtually no hope of going to the next one, next year in South Africa. For Ahmadinejad, revealing the nationalist lurking inside of the Islamist, this was little short of a disgrace.

I haven’t heard, yet, of any Iranian players being dragged into the chamber of horrors that is Evin prison. Instead, Ahmadinejad focused his wrath on the Iranian coach, Ali Daei. No matter that Daei, as a player, enjoyed the same status in Iran as did Bobby Charlton in England or Roberto Baggio in Italy. Reported The Guardian:

Daei was fired as team coach after Iran lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in a vital World Cup qualifier at Tehran’s Azadi stadium on Saturday. The match was witnessed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, who is said to have been instrumental in ousting him.

Ahmadinejad had hoped a victory would bring him political capital before the presidential poll in June. The desire to score a propaganda coup even prompted the president’s fans to credit him when Iran took a 1-0 lead. But the euphoria evaporated in the last 12 minutes and Daei’s fate was sealed as a mass mobile phone text to Ahmadinejad’s supporters went out, reading: “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out.”

Two months later, the same regime was showing its respect for “national public opinion” by stealing an election and crushing demonstrators on the streets of Tehran.