Soccer Win Could Hurt Iran's Mullahs

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TEHRAN: The U.S. soccer team may get support from an unexpected quarter in its World Cup clash with Iran on Sunday -- the Islamic country's conservative mullahs. The last thing Iranian conservatives want is a victory that would produce another outburst like the one that happened when Iran qualified to go to France. "Men and women together in the streets celebrating and having fun horrified the conservative leadership, but there was nothing they could do about it," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. When Iran got the World Cup invite, there were eight-hour demonstrations in the major cities. Says MacLeod, "If Iran defeats the U.S. the same thing will happen again."

But look at the big picture. An Iranian soccer victory would help President Khatami's efforts to reconcile with the West. Says MacLeod: "If Iran wins it'll show Iranians that America is not the 'Great Satan,' especially when they see the Americans shaking hands with them after being defeated." A sound case for the favored Americans to throw the game? Perhaps, but losing to a traditional enemy might be a little hard for Americans to swallow. So perhaps the growing rapprochement between Washington and Tehran would be best served by a well-fought draw.