Iran’s Journey to Russia… Fans Pop Up for the Surf & Turf!

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Persianfootball.com (Hagåtña, Guam) –  With less than 48 hours to go before Iran’s World Cup qualifier in Guam, Team Melli fans are popping up in droves, but not on their surfboards for an insane ride on the “totally epic” waves of Mallesso on the south side of the island.

They are popping up on social media and sports forums to complain about the countless problems that overshadowed Team Melli’s trip to the tiny United States’ territory. Genuine concerns have also been raised about the seating and the artificial turf of the Guam Football Association National Training Center.

Indeed, there may have been some sinister motives behind visa denials concerning three Europe based players;  goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi and defender Ehsan Hajsafi  who both started against Turkmenistan, and midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi who became the youngest goalscorer in Team Melli’s history in that match – at 19 years and 42 days.

Without official statements from either federation on the issue, it is Guam manager Gary White’s statement from August that ironically provides the best insight: “I just don’t believe it’s the right way of going about things, it’s not professional, but I guess when under pressure football associations can panic.”

Of course, Gary was at the time referring to visa delays hampering their travel plans to Iran. But unlike the situation at hand, none of the visas were denied, all were issued within the timeframes stipulated by FIFA, and Iran went on to beat Guam comfortably, ruling out “panic” as a motivation.

Perhaps, there were also sinister motives behind the denial of landing rights to Team Melli’s charter plane, presumably with sanctions as the pretext. Forced to leave immediately after the Turkmenistan match instead, the arduous journey took more than 32 hours with three flights, through Dubai and Seoul on regular airlines.

But despite the fans’ genuine concerns, there does not appear to be anything amiss with the stadium’s artificial turf. Few football fans may know this but FIFA has actually been encouraging the use of artificial turf as “a viable and attractive alternative to a natural turf pitch” for quite some time now.

The reasoning is provided in section 4.4 of FIFA’s Football Stadiums – Technical Recommendations and Requirements: a perpetually green playing surface, evenness that makes for a quick, precise game in which both technical and physical players stand an equal chance, superior durability and lower maintenance costs.

There are also no provisions in either the named document or FIFA’s supplemental handbook Quality Concept for Football Turf that would render a 1 Star field ineligible for international competitions contrary to claims made by some Iranian media outlets.

The issue of stadium seating on the other hand is quite puzzling. Although there is certainly no sinister motives behind the lack of proper seating, section 34 of FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations clearly states that World Cup qualifiers may only be played in “all-seater” stadiums.

While the term “all-seater” does not preclude a stadium with concrete benches – clearly visible in pictures on both FIFA’s official site and GFA’s official Facebook page – from hosting a World Cup qualifier, the aforementioned documents do specifically state that these benches can not be used in such a match.

But the seating issue is unlikely to have any effect on Team Melli’s performance and with the looming clash being one of the hottest tickets on the island and expected to sell out even at $10 for a regular ticket and $25 for a VIP ticket, the fans may be wise not to dwell on this issue in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

Afterall, sportsmanship and professionalism were aplenty, both in our interview with the Matao captain Jason Cunliffe and during the first-leg clash in Tehran, with no traces of anti-football tactics from Guam that are often on display when other Asian opponents face off against Team Melli.

As always, football should transcend politics and the focus should now shift to the green field and the 90 minute battle.  With Guam still unbeaten at home in the qualifiers and Iran hoping to pull away from Oman at the top of the table, this promises to be a hard-fought and exciting match.

Despite the shortage in personnel, Team Melli fans are amped for an epic surf to victory and coincidentally, some Mallesso surfing advice may come in handy for Queiroz and company on the artificial turf: “excellent right and heavier inside left… don’t go straight or you will get really hurt!”


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