Iranians had been hoping for a repeat of their 1998 World Cup victory over the United States but their 1-0 defeat in Qatar on Tuesday plunged Tehran into disappointed silence as they exited the tournament.
There was no replay of the street celebrations last Friday, when people danced after Iran beat Wales.
In a cultural center in the north of the capital, a dozen families had gathered at the start of the evening to watch the game in Qatar on a big screen.
“Come on, come on,” parents and children cried, waving Iranian flags.
A US goal in the 38th minute however soon put a damper on hopes of a repeat of Iran’s 1998 win.
The match had been billed as the “Mother of all football matches” in the runup, after decades of mutual enmity between the geopolitical foes.
But watching the game, Asghar Mohammadi, a 50-year-old shopkeeper, said he was surprised by the friendly atmosphere on the pitch.
“Many said this game would be contaminated by politics, but we only saw friendly behavior between the players on the pitch. Every time a player fell, the opponent helped him up,” he said.
“Our players fought with all their might, especially in the second half,” he added.
While it was not the World Cup final, the match still made headlines because of its symbolic and political significance to two countries, which have not had diplomatic relations in more than 40 years.
“Politicians sometimes use football as a political tool, but in my opinion sport should not be politicized,” said Amir Moradian, a 45-year-old topographer.
“I wanted Iran to win the match. I was very sad about the result. This loss makes people sad, it’s natural, but we mustn’t lose hope, and think about the next tournaments,” he said.
Meanwhile, protesters in Iranian Kurdistan let off fireworks and celebrated after Iran’s loss on Tuesday, according to social media videos.
The Islamic Republic has deployed state security forces against what it labels “riots” that broke out after 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died on September 16, three days after her arrest for allegedly breaching Iran’s dress code for women.
We congratulate the @ussoccer team on the victory vs Islamic Republic’s team tonight! #EastKurdistan / #IranianKurdistan celebrates the victory tonight! #IRGCterrorist #KhameneiTerrorist #WorldCup2022 pic.twitter.com/IeXBobJLfh
— Mohsen Berkhaneh (@berkhaneh) November 29, 2022
Her hometown of Saqez, as well as other cities in the western province of Kurdistan, have been a flashpoint for protests against the clerical rule.
“Saqez citizens have started to celebrate and use fireworks after America’s first goal against Iran’s football team,” said the London-based Iran Wire website on Twitter.
It shared a video showing fireworks with sounds of cheering in the background. AFP could not immediately verify the content.
Another video by Kurdish activist Kaveh Ghoreishi showed a neighborhood at night in Sanandaj city with sounds of cheering and horns blaring after the United States scored what was the only goal of the match.
لحظه پایان بازی در سقز ???? Saqqez pic.twitter.com/9mk8lVUTyn
— Kaveh Ghoreishi (@KavehGhoreishi) November 29, 2022
Fireworks were also used in Mahabad, another city in Kurdistan, following Iran’s loss, according to videos shared online.
The Norway-based Hengaw human rights group said Iranian motorists celebrated the US victory by honking their horns in Mahabad.
It said fireworks also lit up the sky in Marivan, another city in Kurdistan province where security forces have waged a deadly crackdown on the protests.
Fireworks and cheering were also heard in Paveh and Sarpol-e Zahab, in Kermanshah province, it added.
The Iranian national team had faced a double whammy of government and public pressure following the protests, with some Iranians going as far as rooting for the opposing teams.
“Who would’ve ever thought I’d jump three meters and celebrate America’s goal!” tweeted Iranian game journalist Saeed Zafarany after the loss.
Podcaster Elahe Khosravi also tweeted: “This is what playing in the middle gets you. They lost to the people, the opponent, and even” the government.
“They lost. Both on and off the pitch,” tweeted Iran-based journalist Amir Ebtehaj.
The US victory sent Iran out of the World Cup and ensured the Islamic republic’s arch enemy a place in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
“And the Islamic republic football team’s circus is over,” tweeted former journalist Hamid Jafari.
“Now the news of oppression can’t be hidden behind the win or loss of the security forces’ favourite team,” he wrote, referring to videos of the Iranian police celebrating the team’s previous win against Wales while deployed in the streets.
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 448 people have been killed by Iran’s security forces in the crackdown on more than two months of protests.