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World Cup: U.S. eliminated from Cup after 2-1 loss to Iran.

By Paul Obejuerge
Gannett News Service

LYON, France (Sunday, June 21, 1998) -- Coach Steve Sampson wanted his team to go forward. Instead, it soon is going back home.

Iran scored two easy goals today against a United States national soccer team stubbornly committed to the attack, stunning the Americans 2-1 before a World Cup crowd of 49,000 at Gerland Stadium.

After two defeats, the United States already is out of contention for the second round of France '98, a flashback to its hapless status of 1990, when it lost three consecutive games in Italy. "This is the style of soccer we want to play and will continue to play," Sampson said. "This is the way Americans want to play -- to win."

The U.S. coach went with a radically changed lineup against Iran and abandoned the defense-first formation used in a 2-0 loss to powerful Germany. The result, however, was similar as the United States returned to Third World status as a soccer power -- at least at this World Cup. "I think those who understand the game will not view this as a step back for American soccer," Sampson said, putting an optimistic spin on the disastrous loss. "I hope they remember this is an American team that played to attack. No American team has ever done that."

Hamid Estili scored for Iran in the 40th minute, and Mehdi Mahdavikia added a second goal in the 80th minute of a game that was not as politically charged as expected.

The United States got close when Brian McBride headed in a shot in the 87th minute, and tried to no avail to tie the game in the closing moments. Not that a draw would have done them much good; a victory was all but required for the Americans to have a shot at advancing out of Group F. "Four years of work, and it's gone in a week," U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones said. "Obviously this is disappointing."

Sampson made five lineup changes from the 11 on the field for kickoff last Monday in the opener and went from the clog-the-middle 3-6-1 formation to an attacking 3-5-2 alignment with two forwards. Every change was in favor of a player Sampson believed would bring more energy to the attack:

Tab Ramos for Chad Deering, Frankie Hejduk for Mike Burns and Joe-Max Moore for Brian Maisonneuve in midfield; forwards Roy Wegerle and McBride for Eric Wynalda and Ernie Stewart at the top of the lineup. "We wanted to come out and put them on their heels," McBride said. "We wanted to start fast."

The United States did, missing on four good scoring chances early. Three shots hit the post or crossbar in the first 33 minutes, two on headers by McBride. "It was like the post had a magnet on it," he said. "Like the post was magnetized to attract the ball."

"We easily could have won this game three or four to one," Sampson said.

The victory was Iran's first in World Cup history, and it came over the team that represents a country routinely referred to in Iran as The Great Satan. Before Iran's victory, Asia's four teams here were winless in seven matches and had been outscored 16-1.

Sampson's all-offense concept started off well enough, particularly with all the good early scoring chances. Chance No. 1 came in the third minute when McBride soared high 15 yards from goal to get his head on a long ball from Claudio Reyna, knocking it off the crossbar. Twelve minutes later, he was serviced by Ramos, and another header hit hardware, this time the right post.

At the 33-minute mark, Reyna dribbled left across the top of the penalty box area against a curiously unconcerned Iranian defense, then let fly a withering left-footed shot that caromed off the right post. However, as the United States went forward, often pushing one of its defenders into the attack, as well, it left vacant enormous tracts of territory in the defensive half.

Iran began to counterattack with some vigor, creating dangerous, one-on-one moments, usually with German Bundesliga forward Khodadad Azizi at the firing end. The first goal came late in the first half, when the defensively limited Yanks appeared both tired and in disarray.

Javad Zarincheh, previously a harmless threat on the right wing, played give-and-go outside the U.S. box with midfielder Mahdavikia, Zarincheh carrying the ball toward the corner, where he crossed it past U.S. sweeper Thomas Dooley. The ball found the head of midfielder Estili, completely unmarked near the penalty spot, and he flicked a perfectly placed header shot into the upper-left corner of the goal.

Reyna and Ramos, neither known for defensive prowess, were the only U.S. players close to the play, and they watched Estili's shot sail over them and into the goal. Ramos said he and Reyna thought the other was marking the Iranian.

The second goal was even easier. With the Americans pressing forward desperately late in the game, Estili popped the ball past a missed tackle by Frankie Hejduk, and Mahdavikia ran onto it with no one between him and goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Defender David Regis couldn't catch Mahdavikia before he entered the box and fired a shot into the right corner past a diving Keller.

"That really crushed us, knowing we're down two goals with 15 minutes left," Jones said.

McBride's goal came on a crossing pass from Preki Radosavljevic, a 57th-minute substitute. The pass eluded goalkeeper Ahmed Abedzadeh and landed on the forehead of the diving McBride and trickled through the legs of an Iranian defender who tried to clear it off the line. "We knew they were weak on the back post, and that's where I was hanging around," he said. "Preki gave me a perfect pass, and I just had to put it in."

The United States has one more match before it goes home, Thursday against Yugoslavia, which is tied for first with Germany in Group F with four points. Iran has three points. "The match is important to us," Sampson said. "We came here to show we've improved. We're going to play to win. We're going to play to get a result, so the objective in the third match has not changed."

Paul Obejuerge writes for the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sun.

Group F

Iran 2, United States 1
in Lyon

Iran: Ahmad Abedzadeh, Mohammad Khakpour, Mehdi Pashazadeh, Javad Zarincheh (Naim Saadavi 77), Mehdi Mahdavikia, Karim Bagheri, Hamid Estili, Nader Mohammadkhani (Afshin Peyravani 76), Mehrdad Minavand, Ali Daei, Khodadad Azizi (Ali Reza Mansourian 74).
United States: Kasey Keller, Eddie Pope, Thomas Dooley (Brian Maisonneuve 82), David Regis, Frankie Hejduk, Joe-Max Moore, Tab Ramos (Ernie Stewart 57), Claudio Reyna, Cobi Jones, Roy Wegerle (Preki Radosavljevic 57), Brian McBride.
Goals: Iran - Hamid Reza Estili 40, Medhi Mahdavikia 83. United States - Brian McBride 87.
Shots at goal: United States 27, Iran 15.
Shots on goal: United States 8, Iran 6.
Corner kicks: United States 6, Iran 2.
Fouls: United States 9, Iran 21.
Offsides: United States 1, Iran 1.
Yellow cautionary cards:Iran - Mehrdad Minavand 8, Javad Zarincheh 78. United States - David Regis 18.
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland).
Attendance: 44,000 (estimated).