• Monday, February 06, 2023

FOOTBALL

Ahead of Iran-US clash at World Cup, a look at other ‘political football’ battles at the big show

Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Serbia and Switzerland at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 22, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

By: AFP

As Iran prepare to play diplomatic arch-rivals the United States at the World Cup on Tuesday, AFP looks at how geopolitics have spilled onto the pitch in previous World Cups.

– Mussolini’s ‘Blackshirts’: France v Italy, 1938 –

Just a year before World War II broke out, defending champions Italy arrived in France with politics taking centre stage in their clash with the hosts.

Championed by Italy’s then leader, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the team were booed when they came onto the pitch at the stadium near Paris.

Undeterred, the Italians gave the fascist salute to the crowd and played in black shirts, a nod to the uniform worn by Mussolini’s notorious “Blackshirts” militia.

Italy won the clash 3-1 and went on to win the competition.

– Cold War battle: East Germany v West Germany, 1974 –

It would be the only game at international level between the two teams during the period when Germany was divided from 1949 to 1990.

Billed as the “Battle of the Brothers” and at the height of the Cold War, tensions were so high that the traditional shirt-swapping at the end of the match was banned.

With fears of terrorist activities, the match was categorised as high risk and armed squads were positioned around the stadium.

East Germany, playing in their first and only World Cup, pulled off a sensational 1-0 win, though things soon returned to script, with West Germany winning the tournament.

– Maradona’s moment: England v Argentina, 1986 –

This highly charged clash took place in Mexico four years after Argentina’s defeat by Britain in the Falklands War.

To the joy of their fans, Argentina took symbolic revenge, winning the quarter-final 2-1 with Diego Maradona scoring twice. His first goal was the infamous “Hand of God” goal in which he punched the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Then a superb solo effort, dubbed the goal of the century, sealed victory.

“It was a final for us. It was not about winning a match, it was about eliminating the English,” Maradona said.

– Say it with flowers: Iran v USA, 1998 –

Peace, not war, was behind the pre-kick-off niceties between the US and Iran at the 1998 World Cup.

The match, billed as one of the most politically charged in the game’s history, began with a gesture from Iran’s players, gifting bouquets of white roses to their US opponents.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran and the US have been at loggerheads.

The goodwill did not last long however as Iran famously beat the Americans 2-1.

– An eagle lands: Switzerland v Serbia, 2018 –

This clash caused a huge outcry in Serbia after two Swiss players of Albanian heritage celebrated their goals with a two-handed eagle gesture to mimic the black eagle in Albania’s flag, considered by Serbia as a nationalist provocation.

The double eagle symbol is viewed as a symbol of defiance in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 in a move Serbia refuses to recognise.

Granit Xhaka, who was born in Switzerland, made the gesture after he scored the Swiss team’s first goal and Xherdan Shaqiri repeated it following his last-gasp winner that clinched a 2-1 victory.

FIFA fined the players, although they escaped a ban.

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