Iranians danced in the streets and honked car horns late Saturday to celebrate the national soccer team’s robust performance in a World Cup match against powerhouse Argentina in Brazil.
Though Iran lost 1-0 on a sensational late goal by Lionel Messi, the Argentine superstar, fans in Iran paid homage to the mettle of the national team, which held off the highly regarded South Americans for most of the match and at times outplayed their touted opponents.
“Our team was fabulous,” said Zahrah, who was among those celebrating after the game ended, at close to midnight in Tehran. “Their self-confidence was very high in the second half.”
A tie would have been a stunning disappointment for the Argentines, two-time World Cup champions, whose roster includes many stars from European leagues.
The Iranian squad’s gutsy performance against Argentina followed Iran’s 0-0 draw against Nigeria. Some observers called that match the dullest game of what has generally been an action-packed tournament. But on Saturday, Iran played a spirited match.
Iranian news agencies labeled the result an “honorable effort” and a “courageous defeat,” among other glowing descriptions. Sports channels were filled with commentators lauding the national team and especially the goal keeper, Alireza Haghighi, who made several difficult saves.
Iran’s political elite joined in the accolades for the team, which generally throttled the potent Argentine attack and had several chances to score, especially in the more up-tempo second half.
“I am so proud of our team,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, according to the Fars news agency.
Addressing the national team, President Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who was himself a soccer player in pre-revolutionary days, declared: “Be proud of yourselves.”
In the 56th minute, the Iranian side sought a penalty when Ashkan Dejagah went down inside the Argentina box on a controversial challenge by Argentine Pablo Zabaleta. But no penalty was called, enraging Iranian fans.
The game seemed destined to be a draw until Messi, who plays professionally with Barcelona, worked his magic in the 91st minute, in stoppage time, curling a shot with his left foot past the diving Iranian goal keeper and into the net from about 20 yards out. It was a deflating moment for the Iranian faithful.
Argentine fans erupted in exhilaration. But, as the whistle blew, Iranians also paid tribute to their team’s intrepid play.
Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times Staff Writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.
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