Almost exactly a year ago, Iranians took to the streets to celebrate two great victories: The election of the moderate Hassan Rowhani to the presidency and, just a few days later, a 1-0 away win over South Korea that qualified the country for the 2014 World Cup.
Hordes of ordinary Iranian citizens — men, women, children — rushed out onto the streets of Teheran that night, honking car horns and chanting, “Brazil, here we come!” according to Reuters.
“First a new, different president, and now the World Cup. We´re beside ourselves with happiness,” said Nasim, a 24-year-old from Tehran told Reuters. “I feel like God is answering all our prayers at once.”
Or maybe not.
Now, just a few days before Team Melli, as the Iranian squad is known, faces Nigeria in a Group F match in Curitiba, Brazil, on Monday, few people in Teheran seems to care.
According to the New York Times, there aren’t many decorations celebrating the team or a lot of chatter online about the Cup.
“It’s just that nobody is excited,” Arman Hosseinabadi, a 30-year-old accountant, told the Times. “It is as if we are paralyzed.”
There have also been a series of decisions on the Iranian government’s part that have subtly, and not so subtly, discouraged public displays of affiliation.
Movie theaters in Teheran have in the past shown Cup matches, but city police have announced that, “out of respect for Islamic morals,” they aren’t allowed to show the games to both men and women.
There was another plan to have electronic billboards in the city show matches, but that was canceled for unspecified reasons.
And, earlier this week, restaurant and coffee shop owners were instructed by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture to not put up decorations with the Iranian flag or with the colors of other countries.
“Fun, people gathering in large groups, such things make the authorities nervous,” Farhad, a restaurant owner who asked the Times to be identified only by his first name, said.
There have also been controversies involving the national team and its Portuguese coach, Carlos Quieroz, that may have turned off Iranians.
The coach has complained publicly about the Iranian soccer federation not spending enough money on Team Melli, citing specifically the federation’s decision not to allow players to exchange shirts with opponents – a longstanding traditional at international matches – despite the $1.5 million payment Iran received for qualifying for the Cup.
The federation, for its part, has accused Queiroz of keeping money from friendlies — a charge the coach denies.
But whatever the reason, interest on the part of Iranians seems muted.
“We bought a large television set for our customers to watch the matches,” Hadis Bagheri, who runs a modest coffee shop, told the Times. “But people are just not interested. Instead of talking about the World Cup they are hiding their faces behind mobile devices.”