Lackluster Cup return
Late goal gives Yugoslavia 1-0 victory over Iran
Posted: Thursday September 24, 1998 05:47 PM
Khodadad Azizi (right) of Iran gets away from Sinisa Mihajlovic of Yugoslavia Doug Pensinger/Allsport|
ST. ETIENNE, France (CNN/SI)
-- So it wasn't a win. For Iranian fans, just
playing in the World Cup for the first time in 20 years was enough. That
their country played valiantly before losing 1-0 to Yugoslavia,
well that was quite the victory in itself.
For Yugoslavia, Iran was the easy team to beat in Group F, which also
includes the United
States and Germany. For
the Iranians, Sunday's opening World Cup game against some of Europe's best
players was something like David meeting Goliath.
In defeat, Iran's coach Jalal Talebi was a happier man than his Yugoslav
counterpart, Slobodan Santrac, was in victory.
"We played fair and we played hard, and I'm not ashamed of the result,"
Talebi said. Santrac, looking glum, said he was "not satisfied with the
"We played badly, especially in the midfield," Santrac said. "Iranians were
not as dangerous as we were bad."
Yugoslavia's star-studded team has players that have shone in their Spanish
and Italian clubs.
But instead of crumbling aganst the powerful opposition as expected, the
Iranians put up a fight and went into the second half with a scoreless
draw. In the end, one of Sinisa Mihajlovic's trademark free kicks gave
Yugoslavia the only goal in the opening match of the group.
Thousands of Iranian fans showed up to cheer their team, some with their
hair painted in the green-white-red of the Iranian flag. Others had the
flag painted across their faces.
The Iranians, making their first World Cup appearance since the 1979
Islamic revolution, played defensively. Their three German-based strikers,
Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri and Khodadad Azizi, made frequent but ineffective
Daei, who recently signed up to leave Armenia Bielefeld for Bayern Munich,
nearly tied the game when he soared over two Yugoslav defenders to head a
cross into the arms of Yugoslavia's keeper Ivica Kralj with three minutes
Iran played without its captain and main goalkeeper, Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh,
who was out with a bad knee. Nima Nakissa, stnding in for Abedzadeh at the
Iranian goal, came into his own in Sunday's game. Seven years younger than
the 32-year-old captain, Nakissa nevertheless prevented several dangerous
attacks against his side.
Abedzadeh said the players were happy with the result.
"We could have won this game, or at least equalize it," said defender
Mohmmad Khakpour. "In the end, we only lost on a free kick."
Standing up to a team with a reputation for no mercy has given the Iranians
new hope in their next two matches, against the United States and
Given nearly 20 years of hostility between their two governments, the June
21 game between Iran and the United States will be the most politically
charged in this year's World Cup.
Already, anti-American hard-liners in Iran are urging the government to
order players not to exchange T-shirts with the Americans after the
"After today, I believe we can beat any team. We are looking forward to a
victory against the United States," Talebi said.
In a game between two countries returning to the tournament following
politically-related absences, Mihajlovic took the kick from about 25
meters, slightly to the left of the goal.
Mihajlovic, who recently transferred to Italy's Lazio and
is famous for scoring such crucial goals, curved his low shot around the
Iranian wall and beat diving goalkeeper Nakisa in the 73rd minute. Although
they dominated much of the match, the Yugoslavs failed during the first
half to test backup keeper Nakisa.
Yugoslav striker Predrag Mijatovic was well guarded for most of the match.
His one opportunity came in the 82nd minute when Nakisa palmed away his
shot from 8 meters after Mijatovic had drilled his way into the Iranian
Early in the second half, Yugoslav coach Slobodan Santrac boosted the
attack by bringing in his rising stars, 19-year-old Dejan Stankovic and
20-year-old Perica Ognjenovic, in place of midfielders Branko Brnovic and
This was one of the sensitive matches in politically charged Group F, which
consists of Germany, longtime foes Iran and the United States, and Europe's
pariah state, Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was barred from all sporting events -- including the 1994 World
Cup in the United States -- after its forces attacked Muslims Slavs during
the Bosnian war. They are now shelling Muslim Albanians in Kosovo province,
a move that may invite U.S.-led NATO air strikes. Iran's Islamic government
supports Muslims in Bosnia and Albania.
The Iranians appeared tired in the second half, perhaps because of a
lengthy religious ceremony the team held the previous night. Instead of
getting a full night's sleep, the Iranian team was awake until midnight
performing a ritual in which players beat their chests and wept for the
death of a 7th century Shiite saint.
Iran was an Asian soccer power in the 1970s before the 1979 revolution,
making its last World Cup appearance in 1978.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.