Team Melli end World Cup campaign on high note

TEHRAN, Jun. 27 (MNA) – When Karim Ansarifard scored the last-gasp equalizer against Portugal; ecstatic, adrenaline-fueled scenes were witnessed at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, where thousands of young football fans had gathered to watch live feed of the match.

A few minutes later when Mehdi Taremi missed a close chance to edge past Portugal, sending his shot into the side netting, a hushed silence fell over the stadium.

Then it all boiled down to the result of Morocco versus Spain match. Much to the disappointment of Iranian fans, Spain came from behind to score an equalizer in injury time, which ended Iran’s slim chances of going through to the next round of the World Cup 2018.

Thus Iran’s remarkable World Cup 2018 campaign came to a screeching halt. Players were visibly gutted and heartbroken but fans back home were proud of Team Melli’s achievement. To hold a formidable side like Portugal to a draw in a high-voltage encounter is no mean feat. Iran performed exceptionally well in all three matches they played in the first round. They defeated a spirited Moroccon team 1-0, went down 0-1 against the star-studded Spanish team, and drew against Portugal.

When Iran routed Morocco in their first game of the tournament, people across the country poured into the streets at midnight to celebrate the win. Last night when Iran held Portugal to a draw, people again broke out in ecstatic jubilation; although their team’s run in the mega event had ended.

That shows tremendous maturity and magnanimity of Iranian football fans, who truly love their game and believe in backing their side in fair weather and foul. As one of the posters widely shared on social media read, ‘We (Iranians) have a big heart for a bigger dream’. It is important to continue chasing that big dream, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

A week before the tournament, the American sportswear giant Nike had refused to provide boots to the Iranian team, succumbing to pressure from the U.S. government. The decision prompted a sharp backlash from football fans in Iran, who saw it as an “insult to the Iranian nation”. Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz denounced the company and lodged a strong protest with FIFA, of course to no avail. Amid this entire hullabaloo, the Iranian team members were totally focused on the game, not allowing the controversy to distract them.

It would be safe to suggest that Iran achieved the goal they had set for itself at this World Cup. They had aimed to grab a few points, possibly a draw against Morocco or Portugal and a narrow loss against Spain. They ended the tournament with four points, defeated Morocco, drew with Portugal and went down fighting against Spain. They are out of the tournament, but they have cemented places in the hearts of millions of football fans across the world. They are already heroes back home in Iran.

For the people of Iran, football is more than a game. It is an intimate, mesmerizing love affair. The passion with which Iranians follow the game and support their national team, despite heavy odds, is remarkable and inspiring. Team Melli has come a long way since it participated in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Today, many of the national team members like Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard, Kaveh Rezaei and Saman Ghoddos play in big football leagues across the world. They all played tremendously well in this World Cup and their fans must be mighty proud of them.

One man who made it all possible and who clearly stole the limelight in Russia and before that in World Cup qualifying matches is Iran’s gallant goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. His life story is the stuff dreams are made of. As a young teenager, his father attempted to dissuade him from football, so he decided to run away from his home, to chase a dream. He was homeless for years, sleeping rough outside football grounds, and in shops where he worked. He finally made it to the national team. Two nights ago, when Beiranvand valiantly blocked a penalty from Christiano Ronaldo, he became the darling of football world. His story and pictures were widely circulated on social media, and praise for him came from all corners of the world.

The sight of Beiranvand blocking his ferocious shot and then holding the ball close to his chest will haunt the Portuguese star for a long time. Those visuals, on the other hand, would always warm the hearts of Iranian football fans and continuously remind them of how dreams are stitched, chased and translated into reality. Now, it is time to chase a bigger dream – of progressing beyond round one and winning the World Cup. What seems impossible today would be a reality tomorrow.

MNA/TT

News Code 135187

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