One of the victories scored at Azadi Stadium on Wednesday evening was Iran's soccer triumph over the island nation of Bahrain, an easy 1-0 win that guaranteed Iran a slot in next year's World Cup tournament and set off dancing in the streets of the capital.

Another sort of victory came about 90 minutes before the game, when a crowd of female soccer fans pushed their way past guards outside the stadium. Defying a rule that has banned women from soccer matches for more than a quarter-century in the Islamic republic, the young activists demanded seats in the sports complex that Iran's religious rulers named Azadi, or "freedom."

"We were just insisting on our rights," said Laila Maleki, one of the group of 26 young women. "We're part of no campaign."

Iranians will go to the polls on June 17 to elect a new president, and the impending electoral contest brought campaign posters, paper visors and thousands of fliers to the sporting contest, continuing a long link here between soccer and public affairs.

Iran's ruling clerics were dumbfounded by the spontaneous street celebrations across the country when the national team qualified for the 1998 World Cup, and women joined men in rejoicing to banned Western music blaring from car stereos. The party was even bigger -- and more officially welcome -- when Iran upset the United States during the tournament itself.

But the ban on women in the stands remained fixed, although it has been informally lifted in a way that offers a window into how politics has come to work here.

Of the 100 or so women in the Special Grandstand on Wednesday night, most were invited by Iran's minister for sports, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who is also one of the country's vice presidents. An advocate of equal participation for women as well as a presidential candidate, Mehralizadeh has in recent months arranged for women to attend national soccer games.

His approach has been gradualist, reflecting the pace of change brought about by President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer first elected in 1997 in a system in which appointed clerics hold decisive power.

"Women were allowed to come first in tens, then in hundreds," said Fatemeh Abolghasemi, who watched the match with the other women -- several of whom cheered themselves hoarse -- gathered in four segregated rows on the lower deck. "We Iranian women will get what we want," she said, handing out a campaign flier for Mehralizadeh.

"Women, like men, need entertainment," she added. "They need to express their joy. This is a good message to the next president."

But the gradual approach was not for everyone. As the sponsored group of women cruised into the sports complex in a minibus, the group of 26 women gathered at the gate, demanding entry as well. In the crush, one woman broke her leg, witnesses said.

Her comrades persevered and pushed past the stanchions. Once inside the stadium, they were given seats on orders of Khatami, who watched the game from the section labeled V-VIP, right next to the four rows of women in black.

The men around, especially the young ones, said they didn't mind.

"I wouldn't resist if they filled the whole stadium with women," said Hamid Reza, reclining with three buddies on the upper deck, his face painted the red, white and green of the Iranian flag.

"Ladies are good," said a smiling Atta Mohseni, also in his teens. "They really are."

Access to the opposite sex is a pivotal issue in Iran, where for the first two decades after the 1979 Islamic revolution morality police patrolled the streets, enforcing a rigid dress code for women and arresting couples who dared hold hands.

In recent years, however, changing demographics helped bring about considerable relaxation of enforcement in much of the country, where two-thirds of the population is under age 30 and the legal voting age is 15.

Saeid Safari, who wore a black Pink Floyd T-shirt, said he wanted the next president "to provide freedom for us."

Asked to define freedom, he said: "If we have girlfriends, nobody interferes."

"When we are in the parks, nobody should stop us," added Atta Mohseni.

A somewhat different concern over morality underpinned the ban on women at soccer matches. The largely young male crowds at Iranian stadiums are infamous for the vulgarity of some of their taunting cheers. On Wednesday night, as the crowd of about 80,000 filed into a night lit by celebratory fireworks, one band of fans chanted something very bad about Bahrain's mother.

"National matches have not been known to have chants as bad as club matches," said Maleki, passing by the gate she had helped crash a few hours earlier. "If they let us in, this will be a benefit: We'll clean them up."

Soccer fans wave Iranian flags at Azadi Stadium in Tehran during a match against Bahrain. Many fans also brought posters supporting candidates in Iran's June 17 elections.