TEHRAN — In the final minutes of play during Saturday’s World Cup match between Iran and Argentina, the Iranian team was on the verge of achieving a feat no one thought possible: They were holding the mighty Argentines goalless.
In the 91st minute, Lionel Messi, considered the world’s greatest player, scored to put an end to Iran’s impossible dream.
Grown men wept, but only momentarily.
Some chanted “Death to Argentina,” mockingly invoking the famous slogans of the revolution usually reserved for the United States, England and Israel. That didn’t last longer, either.
Iranians, who have few opportunities to openly celebrate, poured into the streets to pay tribute their team’s valiant effort. Long past midnight firecrackers exploded and car horns honked, and the street were jammed throughout Tehran as though it were rush hour.
“We didn’t win, but it took the best footballer in the world to beat us. Our national dignity is safe,” Hossein a 30-year-old Tehran shopkeeper said, after his tears had dried. “I never thought I’d be this moved by a football match. Now I know I’m really Iranian.”
Iran’s team has suffered from financial struggles that some have blamed on international sanctions. Others closer to the action say the problems stem from a poorly managed federation.
The country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, seized the moment to congratulate the team although many here blame his administration’s management for the team’s poor preparation.
Well played to our Persian Cheetahs! It might not be the result you deserved but great effort & heads held high! #TeamMelli
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) June 21, 2014
Despite the bittersweet outcome that the rest of the world will soon forget, Iranians will long remember this match as one of their country’s greatest sports moments.