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Iran tops U.S. 2-1

Lack of offensive production eliminates Sampson's squad

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Posted: Monday June 22, 1998 01:00 AM

  Reyna Image Allsport

LYON, France (CNN/SI) -- The "Great Satan" is going home in humiliation.

Iran -- where some have been chanting "Death to America!" for nearly two decades -- killed off the U.S. soccer team from World Cup contention Sunday night, shocking the Americans 2-1 in a game sure to set off wild celebrations back in Tehran.

Hamid Estili scored on a counterattack in the 40th minute, and Mehdi Mahdavikia came through with a breakaway goal in the 83rd.

The Americans spent almost the entire game showing they really are the gang who couldn't shoot straight, scoring only with four minutes left when Brian McBride put in a shot off defender Naim Saadavi.

As much as U.S. players tried to spin it, their exasperated expressions said it all.

When for once soccer was big news back home, the Americans were humiliated 2-1 by Iran on Sunday night, eliminated from the World Cup by one of the weakest teams in the field.

Hamid Image AP  

"It's not easy. It kind of sits in your stomach," U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna said after players quickly shuffled out of the stadium. "It's a bad feeling."

They wanted to show the world they should be taken seriously, that the United States no longer is a soccer backwater. Instead, they're first-round losers, taking a giant step back from four years ago.

"I wouldn't change a thing," coach Steve Sampson said. "We could have easily won by three, four goals tonight."

That's what the U.S team has been saying all year. The Americans probably will still be saying it after their meaningless final game against Yugoslavia on Thursday night.

Three times, the United States hit the post. Another time, the Americans hit the crossbar. And several times, they missed wide-open shots that the world's top teams easily would have put away.

"I don't know if it came down to country, national pride or anything of that sort," U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller said as jubilant Iranians chanted outside Stade Gerland. "It came down to us hitting the post too many times and them getting one or two easy chances."

Iranian players, who gave the Americans white flowers before the game in a gesture of peace, danced around the field, pumping their arms at the mostly Iranian crowd -- many on whom unfurled large banners supporting a group opposing the ruling government.

  Iran Image AP

The victory, the nation's first ever in the World Cup finals, set off wild celebrations in Tehran, where the United States has been "The Great Satan" since the Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979.

"Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation's spiritual leader, said in a message to his team. "Be happy that you have made the Iranian nation happy."

Sampson, who may be replaced after the tournament, changed five of the 11 starters from the opening 2-0 loss to Germany. Adding more attacking players helped the Americans outshoot Iran 27-15.

But the U.S. team lost its composure after Hamid Estili scored on a counterattack in the 40th minute, getting away from Reyna and Tab Ramos to head a cross into the far corner of the net over a diving Keller.

"Our reaction after they went 1-0 was not good," Reyna said. "As a team we sort of lost it, fell apart."

Brian McBride, one of the new U.S. starters, hit the crossbar in the third minute, then hit the post in the 15th. Reyna hit the post in the 33rd.

"The first two, three minutes, we were pummeling them," Cobi Jones said. "Then there started to be a letdown after 15, 20 minutes and they started to get into the game."

Jones Image AP  

The second half was just like the first. Reyna missed on a bicycle kick in front of the net off a header pass from McBride in the 57th. Preki Radosavljevic was wide on an open header in the 63rd. David Regis hit the goalpost in the 68th, and Frankie Hejduk's volley was stuffed by goalkeeper Ahmad Abedzadeh in the 79th.

Mahdavikia then made it 2-0 with a breakaway goal in the 83rd, sending Iranian players into a wild, hugging, kissing celebration.

"We were all crying," Mahdavikia said.

Iran nearly took a three-goal lead four minutes later, but Ali Daei's shot was cleared of the goal line by Regis. Finally, McBride scored less than a minute later when his header bounced off a defender standing on the goal line.

"We were the better team tonight," U.S. forward Roy Wegerle said. "But we scored too late and that cost us victory."

At the end, Iranian players mobbed each other on the field, then ran to a section of the stands filled with their countrymen. The teams exchanged jerseys, as is the custom, but players broke with tradition and carried the opposing jerseys off the field in their hands instead of putting them on.

"It is a big victory for the Iranian nation," coach Jalal Talebi said. "Not because it was the United States, but because it was Iran's first World Cup win."

Before the game, both teams posed together in an unusual joint picture, one of many unique aspects of a game U.S. politicians seized as an opportunity that might lead to a thawing of relations between the nations. American players were all smiles then, but by the end of the night, their faces were grim.

"You play that game 10 times and we are going to win it nine times," U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg said. "Unfortunately, this was the 10th. You tell me what Steve did wrong tonight? I don't think it was the coach's fault, I don't think it was the players' fault. We played our hearts out. We played a perfect game. We didn't put the ball in the back of the net."

Notes : While Iranians gave the U.S. players flowers, the Americans in turn gave them USSF pennants. Iran also presented U.S. captain Thomas Dooley with a silver-colored plate. ... Hundreds of fans wore T-shirts with the photo of Massoud Rajavi, head of an Iraq-based group opposed to the Islamic regime. About a dozen banners with the name of Rajavi and his wife Marjam were raised, but stadium security wrestled them away and forcibly removed some of the fans. "Maybe I saw," Talebi said. "But I don't want to interfere with something that is not my business."

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