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    In Cambridge, World Cup brings a jubilant reprieve for local Iranians

    Dozens of Iranian soccer fans squeezed into Phoenix Landing in Cambridge to watch their country take on Morocco in the World Cup on Friday.
    John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
    Dozens of Iranian soccer fans squeezed into Phoenix Landing in Cambridge to watch their country take on Morocco in the World Cup on Friday.

    CAMBRIDGE — The ball was in the back of the net, and in the subsequent moment of pandemonium, no one was talking about President Trump, international sanctions, visa uncertainty, or geopolitics.

    For the more than 100 Iranians who packed Phoenix Landing, an Irish pub located about 5,900 miles from Tehran, there was only jubilation early Friday afternoon: Their team was about to win its opening World Cup game against Morocco.

    Last month, Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from a landmark nuclear accord with Iran and was reimposing harsh sanctions against the country. In the wake of that announcement, questions about Iran’s political and economic future abound.


    Friday’s match offered a two-hour reprieve from that tumult for the local Iranian community, but even on the pitch, Trump’s decision was inescapable: Nike had previously said it could not outfit Iran’s national soccer team with cleats for the World Cup because of new US sanctions, something the country’s fans were acutely aware of.

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    “It’s a shame,” said Dee Toop, a 29-year-old who lives in Jamaica Plain and holds dual Iranian-American citizenship.

    Toop spent some of his youth in Boston but moved to Tehran for middle school in 1998, arriving shortly after the Iranian national team defeated the United States in the World Cup. Soccer, he said, was a way for him to connect to Iranians when he moved.

    Being Iranian in the United States can be frustrating at times, he said. People often ask about the origin of his name and whether he is Muslim. He thinks the World Cup has the power to break down stereotypes.

    “I think if Iran does well in the World Cup, it can change a lot of politicians’ views, stances, and attitude towards Iranians. If they see them having fun,” he said. “Iranians like to have fun. We don’t just wear black and mourn. We like to drink beer and dance and celebrate.”


    Friday certainly found the crowd inside the Central Square bar in a festive mood. Morocco looked the dominant side for stretches during the game, but the Iran supporters erupted at any sniff of a scoring chance for their squad. There were occasional chants, some fans wore Iran jerseys or waved Iranian flags, and someone honked sporadically on a vuvuzela. When Morocco striker Aziz Bouhaddouz headed in an own-goal in the fifth minute of injury time to give Iran a 1-0 victory, the place went nuts.

    Yousef Kamancheiy, a 30-year-old PhD student at Harvard from Tehran who has lived in the United States since 2010, said thoughts of sanctions and the political situation in his homeland are omnipresent, before acknowledging: “When you’re watching the game, you’re watching the game.”

    He called Trump’s decision to impose harsh sanctions misguided.

    “I think it hurts ordinary people and strengthens the government,” he said.

    After the Trump announcement, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran countered that Iran could restart enriching uranium “without limitations” within weeks. European leaders have said they are trying to salvage the nuclear deal, but uncertainty persists.


    Alhan Fadiani, a 29-year-old pharmacist, said her family fled religious persecution in Iran 14 years ago. Her family, who are members of the Bahai faith, sought asylum in the United States. She lives in Newton. She lays the blame for sanctions and the current state of the country squarely on the shoulders of the Iranian government.

    ‘Iranians like to have fun. We don’t just wear black and mourn. We like to drink beer and dance and celebrate.’

    “I’m not going to blame other countries because the government is so brutal to the people,” she said.

    Even if there were no sanctions, “people in Iran are miserable,” she said.

    “There are so many people, they have no freedom and the economy is terrible,” she said.

    Roozbeh Raoufi, a 32-year-old who lives in Watertown and is a doctoral student in engineering at Northeastern University, said that in the wake of Trump’s announcement, no one is quite sure what is going to happen next. He said he has no plans to return home “given the current situation” because he’s concerned he won’t be able to return. Of Trump, he said, “All Iranians hate him.”

    “Iranian currency is so weak right now and that affects everyone’s life,” he added.

    Homan Mohammadi, a 26-year-old recent graduate of Harvard Business School who lives in Cambridge, said the Iranian diaspora is far from cohesive. Iranians have different political and social views. He said he thinks most Iranians are opposed to the sanctions because their families will be affected.

    “I think Iranians are looking for something to come together around,” he said. “The people are pretty divided on most issues. Football is definitely one of those things that can bring people together.”

    Cambridge- 06/15/18-Leili Javidannia sceams as she joined dozens of Iranian soccer fans who squeezed into the Phoenix Landing bar on Mass. Ave to watch the World Cup Soccer match between Morocco and Iran on several large tv's in the bar. Photo by (lmetro)
    John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
    Leili Javidannia cheered on the team while watching the game with fellow Iranians at a bar in Cambridge.

    After the game, Mahdi Hagzhadeh, a 32-year-old engineer, said Iranian expats all have their own reasons for leaving their country, but there are still things that resonate.

    “Sport is one of them,” he said.

    After the game, on the sidewalk outside the bar, Amir Namin, a 33-year-old who lives in Boston, talked about future unknowns. His visa expires in August, and his entire family lives in Iran. He was unsure if he was going to be able to go back to visit them, he said. He then turned his attention to the game.

    “People in Iran need this,” he said. “It’s a release.”

    Material from The New York Times and the Associated Press was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.