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When the Asian Football Cup was announced to be held in Australia this year I was exhilarated at the thought of seeing live world class football.
My colleague and I bought tickets to two games for our families; a group stage match between South Korea and Oman and a Quarter Final. I was travelling back from the USA and missed the group match so a 2nd colleague joined my family. Neither my family nor colleagues raved about the game but I was disappointed to miss it because of work, especially after visiting Oman in November.
My husband was not enthused about going to the Quarter Final of Iran v Iraq, especially abutting a long weekend but I explained that I was very excited about the game so we all went together. We joined the throngs of almost entirely Iranian supporters and queued to enter the stadium. My pulse accelerated with the tribal feel, national colours, the drumming, chanting and expectant smiles of the football fans surrounding us. I listened with interest to the Farsi and Arabic and tried to understand. A man was handing out Iranian flags and happily gave one to me but a dour looking Iranian woman conservatively dressed in a chador took one look at my short shorts, tight t-shirt and Anglo-Australian colouring and tried to convince him to take it back off me again. Another man gave my son an Iranian flag and we happily brandished the Iranian colours and shuffled onwards towards the gate.
A friendly Iranian man asked if our small son was supporting Iran. We fell into a brief conversation about the Iranian diaspora and he said that the majority of the fans had traveled interstate from Sydney or Melbourne to see the game.
The stadium was awash with vocal, vibrant and excited Iranian supporters. Mostly a simple beat with a chant of Iran soared around the stadium but occasionally a two line chant in Farsi started up and we recognized it as the chant an Iranian colleague had suggested we listen to before the game. When an Iraqi striker scored their first goal he rushed over towards our stand and unfortunately didn’t find any supporters to celebrate with. It wasn’t until the 2nd Iraqi goal was scored at the other end of the field that the two enclaves of Iraqi supporters came to vibrant life and stilled the Iranian revellers.
The first half was a bit dull as both teams played defensively and when strikers made breaks their team mates failed to support them. After an incident with the Iraqi goal keeper, an Iranian striker was sent off and then the game became much more exciting. Total commitment to every play of the ball often looked like unnecessary force but the referee was most concerned with players diving and refusing to get up. A spot kick awarded to Iraq temporarily silenced the Iranian fans in extra time but Iran equalized just before the whistle so the score line remained balanced at 3-3 at the end of extra time. Tempers had flared on the field and the most yellow cards that I’ve ever seen were awarded.
Not only were we treated to a nail biting extra time but also to penalty kicks in the goals that we were sitting right beside! This was the most exciting football match that I’ve watched live, with the different cultures, languages, desperate plays and energy in the stadium. Even the penalty shootout was thrilling, going to 8 shots each. I was relieved and impressed that there was no violence on or off the field, especially considering the two countries involved in the game.
The odds were stacked against Iraq before the tournament started with the team unable to train together or play matches at home because of the war in their homeland. The GuardianAdvertisements