World Cup qualification seals celebratory week for Iran

Iran’s national football team on Tuesday qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, giving the country another excuse to party after a weekend of celebration over the victory of president-elect Hassan Rohani.

Iran beat South Korea 1-0 in the Korean city of Ulsan.

Many of Tehran’s residents quickly flooded into the streets, honking horns and distributing sweets, as they did on Saturday when Mr Rohani’s surprise triumph over fundamentalists was announced.

“It seems as if a new chapter has opened for Iran,” said Amir-Mahdi, a 25-year-old guitar player, as he was preparing to go out after decorating his face with the national flag.

On the capital’s streets, residents held up Iranian flags and pictures of Mr Rohani, and wore purple wristbands, the colour of his campaign. Many also wore green – the colour of the reformist opposition in the 2009 presidential election which led to widespread unrest following opposition allegations of massive fraud.

“Rohani, Moussavi [the jailed opposition leader], we have gone to World Cup,” people chanted.

“This is too much excitement for a nation who has been in coma for the past four years,” said Ali, an employee of a private company.

The Islamic regime in Tehran, which is usually wary of street rallies in case they lead to political demonstrations or ‘unIslamic’ behaviour – such as men and women dancing together – allowed Iranians across the country to celebrate the victory of Mr Rohani without intervening, despite the chanting of anti-regime slogans.

Analysts believe this was a deliberate move to allow the release of popular frustration with the economy, notably high inflation and unemployment.

“I am extremely happy that we are once again seen in the world for positive news,” said Mina, a 30-year-old housewife.

Leaders of the regime were quick to congratulate the nation and thank the team. In a statement, Mr Rohani said the win was an “introduction to bigger victories and the powerful presence of Iran in all fields”.

Iranian media reported that a count of the ballot box which was sent to the national football team camp showed most had voted for Mr Rohani.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, also thanked “the dear ones [players] who created this happiness”.

Although wrestling is Iran’s national sport, Iranians are so passionately attached to football that the country is often described as the region’s Brazil.

Some presidential candidates tried to attract the votes of fans by promising to hand management of the two most popular football teams, Esteghlal and Persepolis, from regime officials to professionals.

“Iranians deserved some happiness,” said Yalda, a teacher. “I think God has heard the sad stories of this nation and felt sorry that we keep hearing the news of sanctions [over the nuclear programme], earthquakes, floods and plane crashes.”

By The Financial Times

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