Perhaps the most defining experience of the US/Iran match happened a few days before the game. We were hanging out outside the Brazilian cafe near the Arch de Triumphe watching the Brazilians samba to celebrate their convincing win over Morocco. Every few minutes a car would drive by covered in Brazillian flags carrying about 15 people inside, and hanging out the windows. As usual, many of us were wearing US team garb, and a couple of Iranians came up to us to say hello. They didn't speak English or French, and we didn't speak Persian, but regardless, we could still have a conversation about going to the match in Lyon. I can't imagine this hapenning anywhere else but at a World Cup.

We took the early morning TGV from Paris to Lyon to spend the day in Lyon before the game. Lyon is most well known for its role as headquarters of the French resistance during WWII, and for (so they claim) the best food in all of France. Walking around Lyon was somewhat surreal, as everywhere we went cars would honk at us approvingly, and people would applaud. It seems most of the Lyon public was rooting for the US at least.

Most of the Iranians we met were friendly - I think supporters from both sides were acting overly friendly because of the "supposed" political tensions. Hardly any of the Iranian supported actually lived in Iran. Almost all were people who had left Iran before or during the 1978 revolution, and currently living in Europe or the United States. If there was any political tension, it was between the anti-regime ex-patriate Iranians (about 90% of them) and the few actual Iranians.

The stadium was a far ways from the city center. There was a bar near the stadium owned by an American that was the main American base before the game. The wives and families of the American team were meeting there before the game, and there was a crowd of several hundred watching the Argentina/Jamaica game and singing patriotic songs. For the street outside, it seemed like the US would be well-represented inside the stadium. Of course, we didn't realize that all the Iranian supporters were already in the stadium, and many of the Americans were still trying to get tickets.

The game itself matched pretty closely with what a Frenchmen has told me he thought before the game - an exciting game between two "small" teams. The US attacked well early, and Brian McBride had a good attempt go off the post. About 30 minutes in, Jaime standing next to me mentioned he thought the US defense was looking tired. I thought they could make it to half time. They didn't.

Watching the Iranian goal unfold right in front of us was a horrifying experience. You could see a perfect cross coming in, while 3 out-of-position defenders were not marking an open player, and Kasey Keller misjudging the cross and not being set before the shot. The US fought valiantly for the rest of the game, but lacked the creativity and skill to break down a very organized and inspired Iranian side.

FIFA Match Report

Paul Hayward's Daily Telegraph Story

Street scene outside American base in Lyon.

With all the rumors about tensions before the game, I was expecting extreme security measures. In fact, security was tight, but certainly not oppressive. When the search people entering the stadium, they weren't mainly looking for weapons, but were looking for banners with political messages. In the stadium, the security people would quickly react to any banner containing text (regardless of the message) and order it removed. The Iranians planned ahead for this, but all wearing T-shirts with the name and likeness of Ranjavi, the leader of the exiled Iranian government in Bagdhad.

Before the game. Regrettably, I didn't have the presence of mind to take an after shot for comparison.

Here's the US Soccer Federation section in Lyon. You might be wondering why most of the fans in the section whose tickets are distributed by the USSF are supporting Iran. We were too. It seems strange that random Iranian supporters had better USSF tickets than us, an owner of MLS teams, and an administrator of US soccer leagues, while American fans were looking for tickets outside.

After the game, the joy on the faces of the Iranian supporters was something to behold. It seemed like this was the best thing that had happended to Iran in twenty years, and maybe it was. Although we were most distressed after the game, almost all the Iranians were gracious in their victory.

We had to rush back to the train station to catch the late TGV back to Paris. We arrived at Gare du Lyon, Paris at around 2am, and a group of us decided it would be theraputic (not to mention easier than trying to find a cab) to walk home. We took a fair bit of ribbing from the Paris streetlife on the way back, but seeing the sun rise over the Arch de Triomphe did help put the loss in perspective.

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