FOOTBALL CONQUERS 19 YEARS OF HATRED; America and Iran Leave the Politics off the Pitch

Article excerpt

Footballers of Iran and America set aside the nations' 19-year feud last night as they exchanged presents before their World Cup match.

But the depth of bitterness between the two countries was shown when Iran's spiritual leader said America was an "arrogant opponent" whose 2-1 defeat had "made the Iranian nation happy".

And the friendly scenes in Lyon were not shown on TV in Iran - a sign of the tension between the moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who wants a tolerant relationship with the US, and hardliners who call it the "Great Satan".

Before kick-off, the Americans were presented with white flowers by the Iranians and the teams joined for a group photo.

The match was marred only by minor scuffles when security men confiscated political banners from Iranian dissidents.

Thousands of police were on duty in the Iranian capital Tehran to ensure there was no disorder after the game.

The streets of Lyon came to a standstill as thousands of Iranians marched to the match with faces painted green, white and red and celebrated afterwards.

Children ran through the traffic handing out flags as Iranians mingled with US fans in red white and blue.

Hamid Kapour, 27, a language student currently studying in France, said: "To us this is just football.

"It doesn't mean anything politically and it would be wrong if either government felt this was the case. …