1. France turns back 1,000 Iran fans 2. IRNA: majlis today voted for dismissal of the interior minister 3. Moderate Minister Impeached in Iran 4. Clinton to Use Soccer Diplomacy 5. U.S., Iran to play politically charged match 6. BBC: Iran v USA 7. Iran-U.S. Match More Than a Game 8. Sport: U.S. must attack early - coach 9. U.S. match `just a game' to Iranians 10. FIFA STATEMENT REGARDING THE FOOTBALL FEDERATION OF IRAN 11. Talebi's story unites Iranians, Americans 12. U.S. players focus on soccer 13. Soccer Brings Together Iranians 14. Sampson Rearranges Lineup
LYON, June 21 (Reuters) - About 1,000 Iranian fans have been stopped this weekend from entering France for the politically charged World Cup match with the United States on grounds they are a threat to public order, the French government said on Sunday.
The Interior Ministry said the Iranians were turned back at France's borders with Germany and Belgium.
The ministry said the fans, who had come from Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, had been linked to the exiled Mujahideen opposition group. Most of those barred had no hotel reservation or ticket for Sunday night's match in Lyon.
An exiled Iranian opposition group on Sunday criticised the French government's action.
``France has refused to grant visas to thousands of Iranian refugees in various countries throughout the world who wanted to participate in these games,'' said Mohammad Mohadessin of the National Council for Iranian Resistance, based in Framce.
``In the past days, thousands of Iranians who have no legal problem in entering France have been turned back at French border posts without any reason at all,'' added Mohadessin, head of the council's committee for international relations, during a press conference in Lyon.
The council, affiliated to the Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq armed group, again denied it planned to disrupt Sunday night's encounter between the U.S. and Iran.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said this week that he had received anonymous threats of disruption from Iranian exiles. The exiles themselves claim these are fakes sent out by the Iranian authorties to create problems for political opponents based abroad.
Sunday's match between two World Cup outsiders has taken on a political significance, coinciding with U.S. attempts at reconciliation with Tehran.
President Bill Clinton, in a taped television speech to be played during the match, will say he hopes ``it can be another step toward ending the estrangement between our nations.''
Security will be tight at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, police saying they will also strictly enforce a FIFA ban on political banners in stadiums.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
By AFSHIN VALINEJAD .c The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's Parliament impeached the interior minister Sunday, dealing another blow to President Mohammad Khatami's moderate policies.
Of the 268 deputies present, 128 gave their vote of confidence to Abdollah Nouri, while 137 voted to impeach him. There were three abstensions in the 270-member house.
Nouri was not present when the results were announced after the secret ballot.
Nouri was accused of jeopardizing the Islamic nation's stability and appeared in Parliament Sunday to respond to questions by 31 hard-line deputies demanding his impeachment.
Among other things, the impeachment motion accused him of allowing a rally last month to protest the influence of the hard-line clergy in Iran.
Nouri's impeachment is a victory for conservative members of Iran's ruling clergy aiming to discredit officials loyal to reformist President Khatami, who took power last August.
The motion accused the clergyman, of ``creating tension in the society, making provocative interviews and speeches in different provinces and appointing inexperienced people to managerial posts at the ministry.''
Nouri defended all his appointments and said there was a plot to divide the new generation of leaders and the clergy.
``I do not claim that I have never made a mistake. However, you should realize there is a plot afoot to separate the young, bright university generation from the revolution and the clergy,'' he told a packed parliament hall.
The impeachment will require Nouri to resign, but there was no indication immediately when that would happen.
In Sunday's hearing, Nouri was also criticized for being quoted on Israeli radio. But Nouri countered that he was not responsible for where his comments appeared.
``I've given dozens of press conferences and interviews and some parliament members go looking for a couple of words here and there ... to use against me. That's not fair,'' he said.
Several hard-line deputies claimed drug-smuggling, kidnappings and violence had increased since Nouri assumed power. They also accused Nouri of hiring people who were not entirely committed to the ideals of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and for firing people who were not liberals.
``Through uncalculated and unwise moves, Nouri, instead of promoting democracy, created tension, anarchy and violence in the society,'' said Mohammad Reza Bahonar, one of the deputies who initiated the impeachment proceedings.
The Parliament session was broadcast live on national radio.
Khatami's landslide victory in May 1997 shook the foundations of Iran's clerical rule and was considered a triumph for civil liberties in this Islamic republic.
Khatami still struggles with hard-line opponents who accuse him of betraying the 1979 Islamic revolution led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini, remains Iran's powerful spiritual leader.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.
Sunday, June 21, 1998; 5:51 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton will use Sunday's World Cup soccer match between America and Iran to urge the two nations to end 20 years of estrangement.
The president expresses that wish in a videotaped greeting recorded for broadcast during coverage of the game.
The White House has been responding cautiously to overtures from Iran's moderate new president, Mohammad Khatami. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last week proposed the two countries draw a ``roadmap'' for improving relations.
Washington still accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction -- and memories of the 1970s hostage crisis still linger. But Clinton, in the videotape, says he and Khatami have both been seeking to foster more people-to-people exchanges between America and Iran.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
LYON, France (Reuters) - Two countries with a nightmarish political history will be playing for their soccer lives in Group F on the field in Lyon, where the United States and Iran contest their long-awaited showdown Sunday.
Iran (0-1-0 in Group F), which was the last of the 32 nations to qualify for the World Cup, began hostile relations with the United States in November 1979, when it held a group of Americans hostage for 444 days until January 20, 1981, the day of Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration.
Since the hostage incident, neither country has carried a flattering opinion of the other. American flags have burned in the streets of Iran, while people in the United States have enjoyed throwing darts at pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini, in addition to using toilet paper with his likeness.
Because of the magnitude of the game, the players for each nation realize there is more at stake than the three points awarded to the winner.
There is significant governmental opposition to soccer in Iran, as evidenced by the national team's constant coaching changes, though a great part of the populous is addicted to the game. With the hopes of their countrymen in the balance, the Iranian team has also made it a mission to improve the world's view of its people with its showing on the pitch.
Things are slightly different for the Americans, who, because of the hatred of their opponent, should have a much bigger audience than normal stateside. Team USA (0-1-0) has a chance to turn otherwise casual sports fans into soccer buffs with a beating of the Iranians.
Aside from the political motives of the game, the two non-favorites of Group F need a win to maintain realistic hopes of moving on to the second round, though it already seems a foregone conclusion that Iran will miss out.
In its opener, Iran was beaten 1-0 by Yugoslavia, while Team USA fell 2-0 to Germany. To advance, Iran needs to beat the Americans and then earn at least a tie with powerhouse Germany, at the same time needing the USA to beat Yugoslavia.
For the Americans, the hopes for advancing are significantly more realistic. A win over Iran is a good possibility, but the Americans would also benefit greatly if Germany beats Yugoslavia earlier in the day.
That would leave the Americans with a straight-up battle for advancement into the second round against Yugoslavia in Nantes on Thursday.
A draw in this game benefits neither Iran nor the Americans, though it would keep both alive.
Since neither opponent scored in the first game, both will be looking to get their attacks on track. USA appeared to get in gear in the second half against Germany, but Juergen Klinsmann took care of snuffing the momentum with a goal in the 64th minute to make it 2-0.
The 3-6-1 formation that the Americans were expected to use was played more like a 4-5-1 as the USA came out in a clearly conservative approach, aiming for a draw against the Germans. They are likely to take more chances against the less dangerous Iranians, relying more on goalkeeper Kasey Keller to keep the opposition off the board.
Iran allowed only Sinisa Mihajlovic's goal in the 73rd minute in its heartbreaking defeat to Yugoslavia June 14. The Iranians remained close on the scoreboard and was outshot just 11-9. It slowed the Yugoslavian attack with 30 fouls, though it received no cautions or red cards.
It would be easy to let the politics surrounding this match overwhelm what will possibly be the play off for the wooden spoon in Group F, as the USA take on Iran in Lyon on Sunday.
US President Bill Clinton has already recorded a special message to be broadcast just before the game reinforcing his hope that the sporting event will be a stepping stone towards reconciliation with the Islamic republic.
"I hope it can be another step toward ending the estrangement between our nations," Clinton is expected to say.
Conscious of the symbolism surrounding the match, the US and Iranian players will exchange shirts at the beginning of the game and shake hands.
But one man with more important things on his mind is USA coach Steve Sampson, who said on Friday that he was "absolutely perplexed" by the sudden rash of red cards in the last two days of the World Cup.
He said that the number of sending-off would make his players unsure how hard they could play in the game: "They are going from one extreme to the other, and this puts players in a very difficult situation where they must now guess on what the interpretation of the referee is going to be."
However, one name on his team sheet will be that of Frankie Hejduk, dubbed a "free spirit" by Sampson to provide the spark that was missing in the first half of their disappointing defeat by Germany on Monday.
The Californian surfer - with an attitude to match - feels that relaxation is the key to his game: "I just try to relax myself as much as possible, just like when you're surfing. it's just you and the ocean and Mother Nature and you just have fun with it. I have the same approach to this sport."
However the Iranian team is trying not to let the politics surrounding the match influence their build-up to the game. Earlier this week, the squad's official delegation hinted at withdrawal after an American film which depicted a fundamentalist way of life in Iran was shown on French television.
Only a message of sympathy from FIFA, insisting they had no power to prevent the screening, ended fears that the team would go home earlier than they needed.
But Iranian coach Jalal Talebi who has a home in San Francisco said he wasn't interested in the politics: "I am not a political man. I am sportsman - and we came here to show there is no problem between people of two countries."
By Ronald Blum
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, June 20, 1998; 11:32 a.m. EDT
LYON, France (AP) -- Politics and soccer. Patriotism and pride.
For months, American soccer players have been questioned about the huge and perhaps historic implications of Sunday's World Cup game against Iran. It took Alexi Lalas' sarcastic wit to put it all in perspective.
``This is a game that will determine the future of our planet,'' he said Saturday, ``and possibly the most important single sporting event that's ever been played in the history of the world. So we're dealing with that.''
Lalas then cut out the deadpan and resumed his normal tone of voice.
``It's just a soccer game,'' he said. ``There's a lot of crap around here.''
Sunday's game has huge ramifications for both teams. With a win, Iran would set off wild demonstrations back home, where Islamic clerics routinely denounce the United States as ``The Great Satan'' and whip crowds into frenzied chants of ``Death to America!''
An Iranian win would clearly mean the death of the United States' hopes to advance to the second round. Only a combination of crazy results combined with a win over Yugoslavia could then avoid first-round elimination.
But an American win, especially following the embarrassing 2-0 loss to Germany in the dull opener, would give the United States a chance to avoid going home this week and maybe wipe out the view that this team is one giant yawn.
``It's a must-win situation for us,'' midfielder Frankie Hejduk said. ``We're coming out with the attitude we have to win. There's no excuses. We've going to have to leave everything on the field.''
Even the White House is talking about the game, with President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright using the occasion to discuss the possible resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, cut off since the 1979-81 hostage crisis.
Just last month, the State Department called Iran the world's ``most active'' sponsor of terrorism, so it's clear both nations have raw nerves. Iran's delegation went batty last week when a French television station broadcast ``Not Without My Daughter,'' a 1991 film based on the true story of an American woman who escaped Iran with her daughter against the wishes of her Iranian husband. The Iranians claimed the broadcast was a purposeful insult.
``It is imperative that we win against the USA,'' Iran forward Khodadad Azizi said. ``For historical reasons, our country is a lot more sensitive to this meeting. Iran has been disappointed by Americans politics in recent years. This is the most important match of my life.''
Because of the emotions, French organizers have increased security and FIFA has banned banners from the stadium.
With all that going on, U.S. players kept trying to play down the implications of the politics. To them, a win is necessary merely to validate they're better than the post-college all-star team that got swept at the 1990 tournament.
``We're trying to keep the politics out of it completely,'' U.S. coach Steve Sampson said after Saturday's practice at Stade Gerland. ```But it is hard to ignore the fact that there is so much emphasis being put on this game.''
Iran's players also were saying all the right things.
``I think that the media coverage is making this a sensitive fixture,'' goalkeeper Nima Nakisa said. ``The most important thing is to have a friendly spirit on the pitch (field).''
That might be hard. The U.S. team has promised to come out hitting hard, and Iran had 30 fouls in its opening 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia.
``I think they will bring an emotional wave at the beginning of the game,'' American goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. ``We have to handle that wave and worry about playing our game.''
Sampson appeared set to shake up his lineup, inserting a trio of offensive players -- Tab Ramos, Hejduk and Roy Wegerle -- in place of Chad Deering, Mike Burns and probably Ernie Stewart.
Sampson, always secretive about his personnel decisions and tactics, wouldn't confirm the moves, but did promise more action. Iran's primary goal-scoring threats -- Azizi, Ali Daei and Karim Bagheri -- are not nearly as imposing as Germany's forwards, so the Americans feel more freedom to take risks.
``We can't afford to start slow. We can't afford to play conservative,'' Sampson said. ``We must attack and we must play for the three points.''
Notes:@ The U.S. team, which wore red jerseys in its opener, will switch to white Sunday. ... Sampson's reaction to Lalas: ``I don't know if it's the most important match in history, but it's probably the most important match since the 1990 World Cup.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
The U.S. soccer squad, criticized for lacking aggression in losing to Germany, must attack Iran in Sunday's crucial World Cup clash, their coach said Saturday.
"We can't afford to start slowly, we cannot play conservatively and we must attack," Steve Sampson said after the team worked out Saturday at the Gerland stadium here.
"This will be a more offensively-minded attacking team," he told reporters. "I expect a wide-open, physically challenging match."
In a match heavy with political overtones, Sampson said his players were focused on the task on the field, which is to win three points.
"Our aim is to show we are a soccer-playing nation, but it is hard to leave the politics out of it completely," he said when asked about President Clinton's overture this week to improve relations between Washington and Tehran.
"It is hard to ignore the fact that there is so much emphasis being put on this game being played," said Sampson, who added that he had had no recent contact with U.S. political or diplomatic officials about Sunday's match.
Defender Alexi Lalas put it like this: "This is a game that will determine the future of our planet and is probably the single most important sporting event in the history of the world, so we're treating it as such."
He was joking.
"Look, it's just soccer," he added. "There's so much crap talked here. If we don't win we have a very slim chance of reaching the next round."
Most of the U.S. players appeared to be tired of being asked about the political aspects of the first-ever international soccer match between the two countries, whose relations have been soured since 1979 when Moslem fundamentalist militants seized more than 50 hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Both teams lost their opening first-round opening matches, so whoever loses on Sunday will be eliminated. The winner will have a chance of reaching the second round depending on the results when the United States play Yugoslavia and Iran face Germany.
For months Sampson has said the game against Iran is crucial. After the Iranians lost only 1-0 to Yugoslavia he praised them, especially midfielder Khodadad Azizi and striker Ali Daei, both of whom play in the German Bundesliga.
The U.S. coach has been playing his cards close to his chest all week and refused to discuss his lineup for the Iran game but said he had already told the players who would be starting.
From his comments, it appears he will abandon the 3-6-1 formation -- packing the midfield and having only one striker -- in favor of a 3-5-2 system.
That means Eric Wynalda, who struggled in the 2-0 loss to Germany, is likely to be joined up front by Roy Wegerle.
Defensive midfielder Chad Deering looks likely to be dropped in favor of the more creative Tab Ramos. Frankie Hejduk, who was a second-half substitute against Germany, will probably start Sunday wide on the right.
The defense, which Sampson has said he thinks is superior to Iran's, will remain the same, with veteran Thomas Dooley playing between Eddie Pope and David Regis.
Acknowledging that midfield general Claudio Reyna was ineffective against Germany, Sampson said his team would have other options if Reyna was shut down by the Iranians. That pointed to Ramos, a veteran of three World Cups, who helped bolster the Americans in the second half against Germany.
Asked if the players were nervous at playing Iran in a match they had to win, Ramos said: "I don't think we're nervous -- more excited and (we want) to put our last performance out of the way."
U.S. match `just a game' to Iranians
By Philip Hersh
Tribune Staff Writer
YSSINGEAUX, France--In the back country of central France, the calm, rural ambience has not been changed by having security forces closely guard all movements in and out of the Chateau de Montbarnier.
The 19th Century main house and its modern outbuildings, which usually are home to France's top students of the pastrymaking arts, are where Iran's soccer team has been living and training for the World Cup.
Yssingeaux, which spent two years trying to lure one of the 32 teams playing in soccer's quadrennial world championship, remains unaffected by whatever passions have been aroused by the Iranian presence. Iran is in its first World Cup since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini plotted the revolution from exile in France. And Iran will play Sunday in what Yssingeaux Deputy Mayor Jacques Borrot called ``a highly symbolic match'' against the United States in Lyon. But all that has brought this little town is a few inconveniences.
The swimming pool and sports hall have been closed to the townspeople because they abut the chateau. The Iranians, whose religion prohibits them from drinking alcohol, have been nearly invisible, leaving their fenced compound to train on a field across the street or attend news conferences at the Rural Hall a mile away.
The lone exceptions have been a ``Persian dinner'' the team attended Wednesday night and a shopping trip to nearby Le Puy-en-Velay Thursday morning.
Across the street from the French police stationed at the bottom of the chateau's driveway, two dozen Iranian imigri fans from the United States, England, Sweden and Germany waited for a glimpse of the players as they headed to the practice field 100 yards away. Khodadad Azizi, one of the team's star forwards, had come over after the shopping expedition to sign a few autographs and pose for pictures, which was enough to reward the fans for their long trips and hours of standing around.
That tranquil atmosphere has made it even easier for everyone to keep to the party line, ``It's just a game,'' established minutes after last December's World Cup draw produced a first-round match between Iran and the U.S., which have not had diplomatic relations in 19 years.
``I have heard there will be 4,300 journalists and photographers there, and I have heard this called `the mother of all games,' '' said Iran coach Jalal Talebi. ``It is great for soccer, especially in my country, that people are interested, and that people will watch us play.
``We try not to get these thoughts into our players' minds. We want them to be ready for a game of soccer and nothing else.''
Talebi, who has had a home in California for the last 17 years, knows both sides well enough to understand that soccer is secondary to everyone but the teams. He has had to deny rumors the Iranian players would not engage in the usual postmatch tradition of exchanging team jerseys.
He said the Iranians will have a ``special present'' for the U.S. at the pregame lineup of players on the field. The Iranians presented flowers to Yugoslavia--which Iran has blamed for killing Muslims in Bosnia--before the teams met in their World Cup opener last Sunday.
``There will be a celebration in Tehran if we win,'' Talebi said, ``not because we beat the United States, but because we won our first World Cup game.''
Feelings of enmity have softened since Khomeini called the United States ``the Great Satan,'' and Iran kept 52 U.S. Embassy personnel hostage for 444 days, and hard-liners constantly shouted, ``Death to America.''
They had been exacerbated in 1988, when a U.S. Navy ship accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft, killing 290 aboard, and from 1980-88, when the U.S. sided with Iraq during its war with Iran.
``For us it is a friendly game,'' Azizi said. ``Our people are very sensitive to this game. The Iranian people believe (the Iran-Iraq war) was imposed by the United States. Many families of martyrs expect us to win this game. We will win for their sake.''
Those political issues provide a compelling context for a soccer meeting that Iranian coaches and players insist will be important only because both teams must win. Each lost its first game in the three-game first round, and another defeat would preclude advancing to the second round.
``Despite what everyone thinks,'' forward Ali Daei said, ``we are going to play football, and it will be nothing else.''
If that is the case, why did the international soccer federation (FIFA) assign a Swiss to referee it?
``That's typical FIFA, having a politically neutral referee,'' U.S. coach Steve Sampson said. ``But it's appropriate.''
And was it any coincidence that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chose the week leading up to the match to call for steps leading to normalization of relations with Iran?
President Clinton has taped a message to be shown during Sunday's match telecast on the Spanish language network Univision, in which he says, ``As we cheer today's game between American and Iranian athletes, I hope it can be another step toward ending the estrangement between our nations.''
The Iranians actually are more upset with the French. Iran brought three players to what became a surreal Tuesday news conference, in which the team's apolitical approach to its presence in the World Cup was abandoned.
Before a question was asked, defender Mohammad Khakpour denounced Monday's airing by a French TV network of the Sally Field film ``Not Without My Daughter,'' which is highly critical of Iran. During the news conference, Azizi removed his FIFA ``Fair Play'' cap and said he would no longer wear it because showing the film during the World Cup was not fair play.
Complicating the issue, as far as Sunday's game is concerned, is the film's protagonist: an American woman who married an Iranian, then claimed mistreatment by Iran in a best-selling book.
``The movie is a fabrication and a lie, and the players are very upset about it,'' Daei said. ``That does not mean we will not go out there and play our usual soccer against the United States.''
Parroting his government's propaganda that sees Israel as the source of most Iranian problems, Azizi blamed Zionists for the showing of the film. It is a wonder that an Israeli flag still hangs in the Yssingeaux hall where the Iran team meets the media.
Members of the Iranian resistance in France say that Tuesday's news conference was choreographed by ``the regime.'' Farzin Hashemi, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance, said the Iranian government also is behind letters sent to FIFA and the French World Cup Organizing Committee that claim resistance elements plan to disrupt Sunday's match at Lyon's Gerland Stadium.
``They are trying to pressure the French government to restrict access of the Iranian resistance attending the game,'' Hashemi said. ``We have no intention to disrupt anything. That is not our attitude.''
Hassan Nayeb-Agha, a member of the resistance also known as the People's Mujahadeen, played for Iran in the 1978 World Cup. He fled Iran for good in 1983, when, he said, three members of his family were executed by the Khomeini government. Nayeb-Agha said he will attend Sunday's match with ``mixed feelings.''
``I wish Iran would win, but I know the government of Iran wants to use the World Cup to cover the suppression of the people and the players by a medieval regime,'' he said.
Afshin Attar, who came to Yssingeaux from his London home with his brother Ramin, sees the match in different terms. Noting how many countries were represented by the fans standing across from the Chateau de Montbarnier, he said, ``I have never seen Iranians so united.''
Paris, 17 June 1998 - FIFA has received a letter from the President of the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mobsen Safaei Farohani, concerning a movie shown on French television on the evening of Monday 15 June 1998.
The movie, entitled " Not Without My Daughter ", was shown on the French channel M6.
The Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran maintained in its letter that the screening of this film contravened the FIFA regulations banning political or religious messages in connection with the FIFA World Cup. The letter asserted that the " totally false and untrue film has damaged the mentalities of the Iranian national team players " and registered the Association's " strong protest " to the French televison channel and to the CFO.
In response, FIFA said it regretted if the players and other members of the Iranian delegation felt in any way inconvenienced by the showing of the film. FIFA stressed that it had no influence over the M6 channel, which is a private channel and not part of the GRF group responsible for the host broadcaster coverage of France 98, and that neither did FIFA have any influence over television programming in France.
FIFA Communications Division Paris, 17 June 1998
Posted: Friday June 19, 1998 11:39 AM
Special from L'Equipe, the French sports daily
YSSINGEAUX, France (L'Equipe) -- Jala Talebi's laughing with some TV reporters from the land of the "Great Satan," like they say in Iran, a couple days before the historical match against the United States. As paradoxical as it may seem, the man is perfect for the American media, having lived in California for 14 years.
At a time when Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright is calling for the normalization of relations between the United States and Iran for the first time in 18 years, Talebi's story is the kind you tell American children when they go to bed.
He left Iran 14 years ago to allow his three sons to go to school in the U.S., but he's always remained Iranian at heart. "I was in Melbourne with Indonesia's olympic team when Iran qualified for the World Cup. Of course I was happy. Did you doubt that? I was born in Iran, my country is Iran!" Talebi said.
In his youth, he'd been one of the stars for Daraï, one of Teheran's most popular teams. At 19, he competed in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Then it was time to go places.
He coached at Foothill and De Anza colleges in California, in Singapore, and his last job before going back to Iran was with the Indonesian olympic team. A few months ago, he started coaching one of Teheran's biggest teams, Bahman. Just like Croatia's Tomislav Ivic, who lost his job with Iran's national team expeditiously last month, he's a soccer nomad.
"I had just been named technical advisor to the national teams when they called me to replace Ivic," a humble Talebi said apologetically.
American journalists were trying hard to make the diplomat say more about his life in the U.S. "In the U.S., I'm treated like everybody else. I have my business there, I abide by that country's laws, there's no reason for problems to arise," he said. "I also opened a supermarket in Palo Alto. And my wife is a beautician," he reluctantly added after having been asked if soccer was his only source of revenue.
That certainly doesn't go down well in Iran, even with the most liberal ayatollah, which incited him to take cover. "I didn't leave Iran in 1979, at the time of the revolution. I left later and always came back without a problem. I've never asked to become an American citizen," he explained.
Because of soccer, he hasn't been in the U.S. since December, hasn't seen his 28 and 29-year-old sons, who work there, and 17-year-old Bardia, whom he hopes will make it to UCLA.
When told that the whole world will be watching Sunday, Talebi can only smile. "Only the media make this match this important. It doesn't come from us, but we accept it. We'll make a present to our adversaries before the match starts. But please let me surprise you with it," he pledged.
Talebi said he still believed in qualifying for the next round, that he knew better than anyone. "We stick together much more, in Iran. In the U.S., it's to each his own. I think you find these characteristics on the pitch, and that we'll have the edge because of that. The American players are very strong, fast, aggressive, I'll reckon. But we'll see who runs the longest," Allbright's best ally said, laughing.
SAINT-JEAN D'ARDIERES, France -- Even the First Fan is thinking about soccer as Sunday's World Cup game against Iran approaches.
President Clinton, not exactly the most avid soccer supporter, videotaped a message to the Iranian people that will be televised during the game, saying he hoped the match "can be another step toward ending the estrangement between our nations."
Players, however, wanted no part of the politics.
"I haven't talked to Bill lately," midfielder Tab Ramos said. "Does Bill Clinton know we're playing Iran? I think he does because of all the security going on."
The Americans, for the most part, are treating just it like just another game.
"I don't believe that the feeling this is a political game lives within the team," Ernie Stewart said Thursday. "We are just concerned with getting the points."
While there are many rivalries and grudge matches in sports, its rare for one team's backers to denounce their opponent as "The Great Satan," the term Iran has used for the United States since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In an effort to avoid trouble, French police have stepped up security at the U.S. camp, adding additional plainclothes officers.
And while some teams get into a war of words, the Iranian government has gotten into a war of films, upset by a French television broadcast of "Not Without My Daughter," a 1991 film based on the true story of an American woman who escaped Iran with her daughter against the wishes of her Iranian husband.
"It's a good movie," defender Alexi Lalas said, speaking tongue-in-cheek about the film, which got negative reviews. "Sally Field did a tremendous job in that movie. I've seen it several times myself."
Then Lalas turned serious.
"If they've been insulted by a movie that's being shown, they've got bigger problems," he said. "That means nothing to us."
Sunday's game has bigger political implications for Iran's government, which often denounces the United States. For the teams, it has equal importance.
Both lost their openers (the United States 2-0 to Germany and Iran 1-0 to Yugoslavia). Either could be eliminated by another loss, depending on what happens in the Germany-Yugoslavia match.
"We have a lot of pressure, much more than we had against Germany," captain Thomas Dooley said. "We had almost none against Germany."
U.S. coach Steve Sampson is toying with major changes to his lineup. Ramos and Frankie Hejduk, both second-half subs against Germany, will start. It's possible he may alter his 3-6-1 formation and start two forwards.
And with Iran starting a much shorter team than Germany, he may use Lalas or Marcelo Balboa to increase his team's height and add muscle.
"I don't look at it too much in the politics," Balboa said. "It's another game. We have to play our game, get our result in order for us to advance."
The average age of the U.S. roster was 10 when the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran began in 1979.
"I don't remember much about it at all," Ernie Stewart said. "I knew there was a situation."
In a coincidence, Iran coach Jalal Talebi once coached at Foothill Junior College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., where Sampson played and was an assistant coach -- though at a different time. Talebi says during the 1994 World Cup he met Sampson, then an assistant to Bora Milutinovic.
Sampson doesn't remember.
"You meet a lot of people with Bora," he said.
Iran's players say they plan to make a special gesture to the U.S. team in a sign of friendship, and Clinton has called for a movement toward re-establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran.
"We are exploring what the future might hold," Clinton said Thursday. "What we want is a genuine reconciliation with Iran. We believe Iran is changing in a positive way, and we want to support that."
Iranian exiles have made anonymous threats to disrupt the game, and an Iranian fan shouted Wednesday at Lalas during a trip to Lyon.
"Just some punk who wanted to say he cussed me out," Lalas said.
U.S. players seem to think the game won't aggravate the relationship between the nations, even though it could be physical. Iran had 30 fouls in its opener against Yugoslavia.
"I think all of us understand the implications of the game and we're excited about it," Eric Wynalda said. "It's an opportunity for the sport of soccer to bring two nations together. It's the beauty of the World Cup."
Notes: U.S. players had a barbecue with their wives and families Thursday afternoon. ... While American players have pretty much stuck to Nike gear as their daily attire, Lalas, a native of Birmingham, Mich., wore a Detroit Red Wings jersey Thursday. ... Stewart said his bruised knee will not stop him from playing Sunday.
Saturday, June 20, 1998; 11:52 a.m. EDT
LYON, France (AP) - For once, Iranians on all sides of the political divide will be rooting for the same team at the World Cup match between Iran and the United States on Sunday.
With 20 years of hostility between Iran and the United States, the game in Lyon will be the most politically charged match of this tournament.
Iran's first World Cup appearance in 20 years has stirred passions among Iranians who care nothing about soccer. Some have never even lived in Iran, or left so long ago they have even forgotten their language.
Tens of thousands of Iranians left after the 1979 Islamic revolution overthrew the U.S.-supported shah and installed a strict religious government. Many, who are still opposed to the government, have never returned even for a visit.
But when the whistle blows, they'll be rooting along with the thousands of fans who have come from Iran to watch the games.
``I'm going to paint 'Iran' on my forehead and take the Iranian flag to the game,'' said Jeilan Tehrani, a 31-year old Iranian woman who has lived in France since she was 19. ``My cousin, who's half English and never cared about Iran, is also really excited about the Iranian team. He even wants a jersey from the Iranian team.''
At Iran's last match, a 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia, about 28,000 Iranians were at the game, cheering their team in a chorus. There is no estimate for the number of Iranians who have traveled to France for the tournament.
Outside the Iranian team's living quarters in the town of Yssingeaux in the French heartland, 6-year-old Nader Ansari stood in the rain with his father for hours, only to get a signature from his favorite Iranian player, striker Ali Daei.
``He loves soccer, and I brought him here from our home in Germany to see something of a country he's never seen, and perhaps will never see,'' said Nader's father, Ali, who's married to a German.
``I think the passions stirred by the games go beyond soccer,'' added Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, who's making a film about Iranians alienated from their country but still longing to return to their roots.
``Many live outside Iran and are totally against the Islamic government back home. For them, soccer is just an excuse, a way of attaching themselves to something Iranian, something that reminds them of a home they left long ago or a country they know only from the tales of their parents,'' said Asgharzadeh, an independent filmmaker.
``That's why all of them have come here.''
Even hard-line opponents of the Islamic government who are bent on overthrowing it want Iran to beat the United States.
``What we and all other Iranians want is for Iran to win Sunday's game. But support for the players does not mean support for the barbaric regime ruling in Iran,'' said Farzin Hashemi, a member of the Mujahedeen Khalq.
The Mujahedeen, the largest Iranian opposition organization, is outlawed in Iran. The Iraq-based group also has offices in Europe and the United States.
Across Tehran and other Iranian cities, cafes and restaurants have installed TV sets to attract customers, and security has been increased to control crowds -- jubilant or otherwise.
Some universities even postponed exams scheduled during the month-long tournament, while shops have reported skyrocketing sales of nuts and crackers, apparently to be served as snacks during the matches.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
SAINT-JEAN D'ARDIERES, June 19—A month ago, U.S. Coach Steve Sampson said his new formation had to "fail miserably" in order to give it up. Though refusing to say the formation failed, Sampson has decided to abandon it for a more attack-oriented approach in Sunday's World Cup match against Iran, forward Roy Wegerle said today.
The change will put two forwards on the field instead of only one in hopes of creating more goal-scoring opportunities.
While alignments in a fluid game such as soccer are less significant than in more structured games such as U.S. football, the fact Sampson is willing to relinquish a formation in which he so strongly believed demonstrates -- particularly to his players -- that he "will do anything for victory," as he said today.
It may also suggest that he succumbed to pressure from U.S. players who grumbled about the effectiveness of the old formation, which has produced just two U.S. goals in the past four significant matches for the United States.
Both Iran and the United States must win Sunday in order to have a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.
"I think he heard a little mumbling about it not being offensive enough . . . from different people," Wegerle said. "Maybe that's why he's decided to do that. Personally, I think it's a great move, going with two forwards."
The old formation employed three defenders, six midfielders and just one forward and is known as the 3-6-1. According to Wegerle, the U.S. team will play a 3-5-2 Sunday. Although the two formations are similar, very different personnel could see playing time.
Tab Ramos might start at attacking midfielder in place of Claudio Reyna, who might move to one of the two defensive midfielder spots in place of Chad Deering. Competing for the two forward spots are Eric Wynalda, who started in Monday's loss to Germany, Wegerle and Brian McBride. Ernie Stewart's attacking midfielder role disappears in the new formation. In a move unrelated to the formation change, Frankie Hejduk will start for Mike Burns.
Sampson has declined throughout the World Cup to discuss his specific strategy and has maintained that his lineup and approach for Sunday's game has not been decided.
He did say during his meeting with reporters today: "It's always been my position to involve players in the decision-making process -- not that they have anything to do with the final say. . . . It would be foolish not to draw on the experience of many of our players."
After the U.S. team's 2-0 loss to Germany, several veteran players took issue with the alignment. Midfielder Ramos attributed the ineffectiveness of Wynalda -- whom Sampson criticized after the match -- partly to the fact he had no help near the goal. Wynalda did not take a single shot against Germany, and said afterward he had never before failed to take a shot in 101 international matches.
Wegerle has maintained for weeks that the 3-6-1 was a nightmare for the forwards. Others, however, such as defender Thomas Dooley and midfielder Cobi Jones, said they thought the 3-6-1 was just fine and should not necessarily be discarded.
Jones and Wegerle agreed that the 3-5-2 formation requires very little adaptation for the team and is more comfortable for the forwards, who are accustomed to playing with a partner.
"It's not something that's going to disrupt the team by any means," Wegerle said. "It's a very simple adjustment."
Sampson unveiled the 3-6-1 alignment on April 22 for a match against Austria. The United States won, 3-0, ending a four-match winless streak and giving Sampson hope that he had found part of the key for success in the World Cup.
Some players remained unconvinced: "It was just one game. . . . Let's be honest, Austria isn't Germany," said defender Alexi Lalas, who essentially lost his starting job with the adoption of the 3-6-1. "We were very good on that day."
Since the Austria match, the United States defeated Kuwait, 2-0, and played to scoreless ties with Scotland and Macedonia in international friendlies. All of the results, perhaps excepting the Kuwait score, were regarded as disappointing given the caliber of competition. Only Scotland qualified for the World Cup finals.
No one questioned the 3-6-1 formation's effectiveness defensively. Sampson points out -- without much dispute -- that Germany's two goals were not due to flaws in the formation. On the first goal, Germany scored on a pair of headers off a corner kick. On the second, the United States got caught in an attacking posture and Juergen Klinsmann took advantage of it.
Though disappointed in the Germany result, the U.S. players knew before the match that even a tie would be difficult to achieve. Against Iran, however, the United States will not consider anything but a victory an acceptable result.
"We can't afford a tie," Hejduk said. "We have to throw as many people as we can forward. . . . We have to score goals."
U.S. Note: Stewart has been bothered by a strained right knee ligament but he returned to practice today. Sampson said Stewart is likely to be ready to play Sunday.