QUEEN’S ROAD: Team Melli, as the Iranian national soccer team is called, landed in the Garden City on Sunday for the first time in the history of Iranian and Indian football.
Melli in Persian means ‘national’ and Team Melli stands for the Iranian national team. Not for nothing does Iran is at number 41, the highest an Asian nation has ever got in the FIFA rankings. Not for nothing does the team’s jersey feature a giant silhouette of the Asiatic cheetah, an endangered species which is found only in Iran. This is not only to create awareness about the cheetah but also to warn the opponents that the team is ready to simply knock them over if not off their feet.
Way back in 1981-82, Bengaluru’s soccer lovers had a taste of Iranian flair and felicity when the Iranian trio of Majid Baksar, Jamshed Nassiri and Khabazi represented East Bengal in the Stafford Challenge Cup. Majid was in the Iranian World Cup squad in 1978 when Iran qualified for the finals for the first time.
Not surprisingly, Majid turned out to be the best foreigner ever to play in India.
At the height of the Gulf War, East Bengal and the three Iranians clashed with the Iraq Youth Club in the final.
The student community of both nations was out in full force and the venue was like a war zone. The tension on the field and in the stands was palpable.
Iran and India have met in the Asia Cup, Asian Games and Olympic Games qualifiers.
But this is the first time they face one another in a World Cup qualifier.
Managed by Portuguese Carlos Quieroz, a former assistant manager at Manchester United, Iran made it to the 2006 and 2014 World Cup and hope to do so again in 2018. After their first appearance in 1978, Iran made it to France 1998 as well apart from Brazil 2014.
The Iranian Revolution and the Gulf War have had serious political ramifications and Iran and USA were not exactly on friendly terms. Ironically, they were drawn to meet each other in 1998 in France.
Led by the legendary striker Ali Daei, Iran won 2-1 and eliminated USA from the World Cup. Iranians celebrated the victory with gay abandon. But despite all the tensions, players on both sides showed tremendous sporting spirit and even exchanged pleasantries before and after the match.
US defender Jeff Agoos’ quote is simply historic, “We did more in 90 minutes than what the politicians could do or did in 20 years.”
Iran has been a regular in the Asian Cup and has won it thrice as well.
The Indians thus will be up against the giants of Asian football. No matter what the result, Iran will have entertained the crowd while having educated the serious students of the game as well.