The geopolitical enemies Iran and USA meet again at the World Cup

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WASHINGTON, April 1 (Reuters) – After more than 40 years of bad relations and months of fighting to restore a nuclear deal, the United States and Iran are now meeting on the soccer field at this year’s World Cup after finishing together in Group B at the draw on Friday.

Dodging the political uproar, coaches from Iran and the US said their focus was on the tournament and its ability to bring people together. England and the winners of a European play-off – Ukraine, Scotland or Wales – complete the group.

The icy US-Iran relationship, marked by diplomatic and even military confrontations in recent years, has the potential to thaw somewhat before the Nov. 21 game in Qatar. It could also get worse.

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President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to restore a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that have hit Iran’s economy.

Washington has accused Iran and forces it supports of carrying out attacks across the Middle East, including against US forces stationed in Iraq and Syria.

In 2020, the two countries were on the brink of war after the US killed a top Iranian general and Tehran responded with retaliatory missile attacks on US forces stationed in Iraq.

Despite the seriousness of the US-Iran rivalry, Washington’s diplomatic Twitter sphere erupted with jokes following Friday’s World Cup draw, held at Qatar’s Doha Exhibition and Convention Center.

Ali Vaez, head of the Crisis Group’s Iran project, joked that the US government had set up a group to see what would happen in the event of a tie.

“A US interagency working group was established ahead of the Iran game to determine whether their offense can be deterred, the scope of follow-up negotiations in the event of a tie, and whether the shirt swap violates sanctions,” Vaez wrote.

WOMEN FANS

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, said the Biden administration should seize the opportunity to advocate for Iranian women.

Iranian authorities barred Iranian women from entering a soccer stadium in the city of Mashhad last month, according to Human Rights Watch. World football’s governing body FIFA has told Iran in the past that it is time to let women in football stadiums.

Meanwhile, the coaches focused on the game.

“I think at the end of the day it’s about football and the best show of friendship you can do is to compete hard and fair on the pitch and that’s what the World Cup is about,” said USA coach Gregg called Berhalter.

There are few expectations for the USA team for the tournament, which they failed to qualify for in 2018 but now boast a number of promising young players.

Iran qualified for the World Cup in Russia four years ago but never progressed beyond the group stage.

“I only think about football and not external things,” said Iran coach Dragan Skocic.

“I hope football creates good contact and relationship between people and that’s what people expect from sport,” added Croatian Skocic.

Team USA last met Iran at the World Cup, losing 2-1 to the Gulf nation in France in 1998.

“I remember that well,” Berhalter said when speaking to reporters. “I did a commentary for a Dutch TV station.

“It was the first time we played them. It grew out of political tensions between the two countries and it was a way of saying we’re still friends on the football field.”

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reporting from Idrees Ali in Washington, Simon Evans in Doha and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Ken Ferris

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Policy.

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