Arizona soccer fans watch U.S. win in World Cup, reflect on strained relations with Iran

Soccer fans at Crown Public House in downtown Phoenix watch the World Cup match between the United States and Iran. Controversy has surrounded the competition. (Photo by Nikash Nath/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Soccer often brings people together and with the World Cup in full swing, it’s no secret nations have united to cheer on their beloved teams.

Recent off-the-pitch disputes involving the United States and Iran left soccer fans in Arizona with strong opinions ahead of Tuesday’s Group B match that advanced the U.S. to the knockout stage with Christian Pulisic’s score in the 38th minute of a 1-0 win.

“As an Iranian-American myself, I take great pride in my culture and my heritage and I hope for a friendly game today,” U.S. soccer supporter Alex Navidi said while watching the game at Crown Public House.

Heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran were sparked by a social media post from the U.S. Soccer Federation that showed Iran’s national flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic in “support for the women” in Iran fighting for basic human rights. Iran did not take kindly to the United States’ actions, and Iranian state television said the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision was comparable to “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag.

Safiollah Fagahanpur, an advisor to the Iranian Football Federation, released a statement regarding the matter that said “measures taken regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran flag are against the law” of FIFA competitions.

“They must be held responsible,” Fagahanpour said. “They are trying to affect Iran’s performance against the U.S. by doing this.”

“If it indeed was a gesture of unity and support I think I speak for a lot of people when I say it’s appreciated,” said Navidi, a a U.S. team supporter. “If it was for unity, I’m all for unity.”

Asked what the crest in the middle of the Iranian flag meant, Navette gave a simple but direct answer.

“Nothing to me,” Navette said. “I don’t support the current regime.”

On Monday, following the social media debacle, an Iranian journalist scolded USMNT captain Tyler Adams. The journalist accused Adams of mispronouncing Iran, then asked about the discrimination in the United States, saying, “Are you OK to be representing the U.S. while there is so much discrimination against Black people in America?”

Despite the reporter’s aggressive question, Adams responded with the level of poise that helped the 23-year-old earn captaincy in his first World Cup.

“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go,” Adams said. “You know, one thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit into different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day. Growing up for me, I grew up in a white family with obviously an African-American heritage and background, as well. So I had a little bit of different cultures and I was very, very easily able to assimilate in different cultures.”

U.S. fans have been raving about how well Adams represented the United States and briefly calmed the tensions between the United States and Iran.

“I think he handled the question intelligently, I think he was very considerate of what was happening domestically and internationally with respect to the hope of revolution in Iran,” Navette said.

U.S. fan Sergio Gomez added, “We all have different experiences based on our heritages and cultures and what we are going through and if we can just accept and respect that amongst each other, I think it would be a better place to be living.”

Nikash Nath nih-KAUSH nath
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Nikash Nath expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Nath, who is assigned to the Cronkite sports bureau this semester, has interned with Arizona Sports and Times Media Group.