The midnight news coming of out of Saransk in Russia was that a group of Iranian football fans had gathered outside the hotel where Portugal’s National Football Team was staying, shouting, blowing horns and beating drums. “Ronaldo, take your team and go away,” some of them shouted, all in an effort to disrupt the sleep of Portuguese players and coaches.
A few hours earlier, it was reported that the two people had instigated the rally, which took place ahead of Portugal's game with Iran at the Mordovia Arena, were the same people who had posed for photographs with Iranian Football Federation officials on May 24. The individuals had traveled from Iran to Russia with the specific purpose of telling Iranian fans what to chant. They were accompanied by the well-known figure of Gholam Hossein Zamanabadi.
During Mohammad Dadkan’s tenure at the helm of Iran’s Football Federation, Zamanabadi was a permanent fixture among the top ranks of the federation. For the last year, he has been the cultural advisor for Mehdi Taj, the current head of the federation. The very first day that he and other federation officials arrived in Russia, he told Iran’s TV news network: “We are here to show Russia the Iranian and Islamic culture.” And he did, but perhaps not in a way that was expected.
The tactic of disrupting a team’s sleep was not invented by Iranian fans. The scenes in Saransk were not the first time that fans of one national team have gathered outside the hotel of the competing team with this purpose in mind.
There’s the example of the 2006 qualifying game between Switzerland and Turkey. The winner of that match would be the last European team to go to the World Cup in Germany that year. To advance, Turkey needed a victory, while Switzerland needed only a draw. Turkish fans congregated outside the Swiss team’s hotel from noon the day before the match. The head of Turkey’s Football Federation said nothing against the behavior and Hasan Şaş, a Turkish football star at the time, announced: “Anybody who does not go out on the streets around the Swiss hotel is not a Turk.”
The crowd, the shouting, the beating of the drums and the blowing of the horns continued until 6am of the next day. Police only took action in the morning, dispersing the crowd. Nevertheless, when the final whistle announced the game was over, it was Switzerland that had advanced to the World Cup.
After the game, a group of Turkish fans ran on to the field and started hitting Swiss footballers. FIFA announced its objection to the behavior. “Regardless of where I was born,” said Sepp Blatter, the Swiss head of FIFA, “what happened before and after the game must be thoroughly investigated.”
Iran’s Football Federation and advisors to Mehdi Taj might have successfully exported the culture they wanted to — but they might get the exact opposite result of what they had hoped for. Their efforts to disrupt the peace and quiet of the Portuguese team’s rest might result in Portugal redoubling its resolve to defeat Iran, and to get its revenge.
More about Iran at the 2018 World Cup:
Iran-Spain: Not All Defeats Are Created Equal, June 21, 2018
Queiroz: "The God of Football Will Decide”, June 20, 2018
Iran Vs Spain: Before the Match, June 20, 2018
Mehdi Mahdavikia in Kazan, June 20, 2018
Big Boost in Jersey Sales as Iran Celebrates Win, June 18, 2018
Iran’s Victory against Morocco: The World Responds, June 17, 2018
Iran’s Last-Minute Miracle Win, June 15, 2018
Iran Fans in Moscow's Red Square, June 14, 2018
Iran vs. Morocco: The First Challenge, June 14, 2018
Decoding Iran’s Politics: Football and State Interference, June 11, 2018