In the homes that Gio Reyna, the gifted USA and Borussia Dortmund winger, grew up in, there were plenty of souvenirs, mementos from his father, Claudio’s own glittering career as a footballer.
Photos, prizes, jerseys exchanged, although not the shirt from one of the most famous international fixtures Reyna senior took part in: Iran versus America, in Lyon, France at the 1998 World Cup.
For reasons Claudio later explained, as simply being “in shock, dazed” after a dramatic last 10 minutes of a highly-charged clash, he had not, unlike most players, swapped shirts with an opponent after the final whistle.
And because it was Iran versus USA, a match weighted with just as much geopolitical baggage in the 1990s as it is today, there was speculation there may have been an extra motive behind the non-swapping of shirts.
“There was no disrespect intended,” Reyna shrugged at the time. “Nothing was going through my head. I was kind of speechless.”
By then, so many thousands of words had been uttered about everything surrounding the first Iran-USA match, that every gesture was being interpreted. The routine possibility that a beaten player might just be exhausted, alone in his thoughts, as Claudio Reyna was that June day at the Stade Gerland, needed spelling out.
Giovanni Reyna (On for Weah 83’) N/A. PA
The USA had been narrowly beaten, 2-1, with the outcome in suspense until the Swiss referee Urs Meier blew the final whistle. Iran carried a 1-0 lead into half-time thanks to Hamid Estili’s well-taken header, but for all their effectiveness on the counter-attack, Iran never felt utterly in command.
The USA side saw three efforts ping off the frame of Iran’s goal in the course of the contest. Even when Mehdi Mahdavikia’s thumping finish doubled the lead with six minutes left, Brian McBride, the American centre-forward, pulled a goal back in the 87th minute.
So much for the basic timeline of the contest itself. The preamble to a meeting of two nations who had severed political relations since the end of the 1970s, had crackling tensions and some unorthodox twists.
The French authorities deployed 150 armed security personnel to the Stade Gerland and its surroundings. Meier proposed that, instead of the two teams lining up in turn to shake hands – a gesture resisted by the Iranian government – the two sets of players pose together for a group photo before kick-off. That image of Iran and USA players interspersed, standing and kneeling, would be one of the many that would define the day.
The USA’s Claudio Reyna plays for his country at the 2006 World Cup. At France 1998, he was in the American team who were beaten by Iran. AP
As for what was at stake, the circumstances were not unlike today’s Iran-USA clash in Qatar, with elimination from the tournament facing the loser. But at France 98, Iran-USA was the second group game, not the third, and both teams had lost – to Yugoslavia and Germany respectively – on match day one.
The favourites in ‘98? Hard to call, although there were voices in the USA camp who, while careful to avoid too many overtly political remarks, sounded chest-thumpingly bullish ahead of kick-off. Iran had qualified for the finals, after a 20-year absence from World Cups, through a play-off, decided in their favour late in the tie, against Australia.
“Iran are lucky to be in France,” the USA striker Earnie Stewart told reporters.
He would come to regret that remark as Iran’s superior finishing pushed the USA to the bottom of the group.
“The Americans lost because they were the more naive team,” reported Le Monde, the French newspaper. Jalal Talebi, Iran’s head coach – who had lived for several years in California, and coached in schools and colleges there – acknowledged the USA “dominated at times”.
The loss hurt. Several American players were fighting back tears after the whistle, Reyna lost in his thoughts, “in shock”.
Partly that was because the USA had hoped the 1998 World Cup would mark their progress as a rising football force.
Four years earlier, they had reached the last 16, hosting a World Cup. The MLS, the country’s new professional league was promising a pathway for the vast numbers of youth footballers across the country. But the verdict from the 1998 World Cup, where the USA lost all their matches, was that there was a long way still to travel.
Nearly a quarter of a century on, the USA have since reached a World Cup quarter-final, two last-16 stages, but find themselves, as in 1998, with a point to make because another staging of a World Cup is imminent.
England 0 USA 0 – player ratings
ENGLAND RATINGS: Jordan Pickford 6: Shouted at the sluggish defence in front of him in the first half. Beaten by a Pulisic shot, but saved by his crossbar. Shouts became fury in the second half on a frustrating night in Qatar. Getty
Kieran Trippier 6: Not close enough to McKennie for the USA’s best chance of the first half and wasn’t close to Pulisic when he hit the bar. Hard night as the athletic opponents pressed well. AP
John Stones 7: Last man and alert to Pulisic as the US pressed in the first half. Passed to Maguire, who passed back to him, then Stones passed back to Maguire, who passed back to him. Ad infinitum. But they defended well. AFP
Harry Maguire 8: Skilful run at the US goal after 10 minutes, but too poor too often in the first half with his marking. Alert for Pulisic’s corners. In fact he won every US corner. England’s best player. Not the game’s best player. AFP
Luke Shaw 7: Two smart first half passes forward in a grim first half for England. Booked for a bad challenge on Weah. Great late free-kick in for Kane. Getty
Jude Bellingham 5: Excellent against Iran, mediocre against the USA. No key passes, shots and outclassed by McKennie. Getty
Declan Rice 5: Couldn’t get near McKennie in the move which saw Pulisic hit the bar. Lacked the energy he had in the game against Iran. Reuters
Mason Mount 5: Poor in the first half as USA dominated in the middle, but had the best effort of a poor first half from England. England’s midfield looked tired. AFP
Bukayo Saka 5: Good on the ball going forward, less effective defending. But it was all so poor. Getty
Raheem Sterling 6: Combined with Mount in one attack, but the Chelsea player did little. Tried to find space but teammates weren’t finding him. Getty
Harry Kane 6: Had more touches in the England box than the USA box. Late header went wide. “Wasn’t our best performance for sure, we didn’t have the final product. It was a contrast to the game v Iran and we weren’t clinical.” Reuters
SUBS: Jack Grealish (On for Sterling 68’) 5: Good feet, but the boos at the end showed what fans thought of a dull game. Getty
Jordan Henderson (On for Bellingham 69’) 5: Failed to help England get a grip on midfield. Reuters
Marcus Rashford (On for Saka 78’) N/A. Getty
UNITED STATES RATINGS: Matt Turner 7: Arsenal’s back-up goalkeeper did not have serious save to make until first-half injury-time when he palmed a Mount strike out for corner. Not much else to do bar deal impressively with crosses into box. AP
Sergino Dest 6: AC Milan full-back found some space down right in first half but either chose wrong option with pass or sent over disappointing crosses. Not happy at all when taken off in second half. EPA
Walker Zimmerman 8: Threw himself in front of ball to deflect Kane shot wide for corner in 10th minute and helped keep England’s key strike threat very quiet. AFP
Tim Ream 8: Fulham centre-half coped comfortably with what little England threw at him as the US were very well organised at back. AP
Antonee Robinson 7: Second Fulham defender in team, left-back looked to bomb on whenever possible although had to be wary up against Saka – but helped restrict Arsenal attacker’s threat to very little. AP
Weston McKennie 7: Juventus midfielder missed glorious opportunity to open scoring when he blazed first-time shot over bar midway through first half. Blasted another chance way over bar just after break from edge of box. Shooting aside, was impressive performance. EPA
Tyler Adams 8: Neat, tidy and quick with the pass – everything England were not as American made opposition look pedestrian at times. Screamed in delight after one excellent tackle on Saka early in second half. AFP
Yunus Musah 8: Former England youth-team player helped USA dominate midfield for large chunks of the match. Relentless in his pressing and good in possession. EPA
Tim Weah 7: Scorer in first match against Wales and nearly supplied the opening goal here but McKennie skied over from his ball into middle. Pace always and movement always a threat. AP
Christian Pulisic 7: Chelsea attacker smashed ball against crossbar with fine first-half strike that had Pickford in England goal beaten in closest game came to goal. Getty
Haji Wright 6: Brought in for Josh Sargent as only change to starting XI, headed difficult chance wide in opening 20 minutes and held ball up well although never looked like scoring. EPA
SUBS: Brenden Aaronson (On for McKennie 78’) N/A. Getty
Shaq Moore (On for Dest 79’) N/A. Getty
Giovanni Reyna (On for Weah 83’) N/A. PA
Josh Sargent (On for Wright 83’) N/A. AP
The MLS now attracts global stars, albeit those generally at the ends of their careers, and, more importantly, produces a stream of young talent. The generation of Americans whom Talebi, the much travelled architect of Iran’s win in Lyon, was coaching as kids, have a better platform on which to thrive as professionals.
And a young looking USA team will take the field against Iran today, Gio Reyna among the starlets.
He and his contemporaries need, as in 1998, to shake off suggestions of naivety, and, to stay in this World Cup, to win against opponents have shown Qatar 2022 periods of brilliance – in beating Wales – but also brittleness, losing 6-2 to England.
Iran-USA is again a fixture in danger of being suffocated by the political theatre around it. But if it provides the suspense of that meeting in Lyon, the football will quickly demand everybody’s attention.