A look at Wales’ only previous meeting with World Cup opponents Iran
The eyes of the world will be on Wales and Iran in Doha on Friday.
But the only previous time the two countries met, no-one in Wales was watching and captain Terry Yorath and his team-mates were left wondering what on earth they had stepped into.
The date was April 18, 1978, the venue Tehran’s Aryamehr Stadium.
American singer Frank Sinatra had performed there a couple of years earlier, but there is no evidence the ruling royal family kept Sinatra waiting as they would the Wales football team.
“We couldn’t start the match until the Shah’s son arrived – he was two hours late,” Yorath told the Cymranian blog in 2021.
Former winger Mickey Thomas said: “I can’t remember much about the match. But I do remember a helicopter landing before the game, and we were told the princes were on there.
“The stadium was massive and we were taken aback by the size of the crowd.
“I think the official attendance was 50,000, but it looked more like 80,000. We couldn’t believe it.”
The trip was also to prove a culture shock off the pitch for Mike Smith’s squad, despite them having visited the Middle East seven months earlier for a goalless friendly with Kuwait.
Political tensions were running high in Iran and protests were spreading against the Shah of Iran as support grew for the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.
Within a year the Shah, the last Persian monarch, had fled Iran and Khomeini had returned from Paris to take power as the country’s first Supreme Leader.
Wales had ventured almost unknowingly into this political maelstrom and spent four days in Tehran, having made an onerous journey from London via Turkmenistan.
The match had been arranged as the son of the Shah – a massive Liverpool fan – wanted to watch a British team play at the Aryamehr Stadium.
Midfielder Brian Flynn, who came on as a second-half substitute, said: “I’ve always loved travelling. It was great for me to go to a place like that.
“I remember this huge monument going into Tehran from the airport – and I thought ‘this is different’.
“Some ex-pats invited us out to attend an event. We had a bite to eat with them, but we didn’t go out a lot.”
I remember this huge monument going into Tehran from the airport - and I thought 'this is different'
The squad did soak up some culture at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar before Wales won a hard-fought game 1-0.
The game was decided when Thomas, who would soon join Manchester United from Wrexham, darted down the left flank and into the box.
Iran failed to clear his cross and a fortunate ricochet allowed Phil Dwyer to pounce from six yards.
“I’ve seen the goal on YouTube,” said Thomas. “There wasn’t a lot in the game, but I can honestly say I didn’t know anything about them.”
Flynn recalls the moments after the final whistle more than the match itself.
He said: “The Iranians were desperate to swap shirts with us after the game.
“They had these tops on which were like t-shirts. They must have cost about £2.50 while we had these lovely Wales shirts on.”
Just six weeks later Iran were at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, their first experience of the tournament.
Iran were beaten by the Netherlands and Peru, but a 1-1 draw with Scotland would effectively end Ally MacLeod’s reign in charge of the Scots.
Wales have waited considerably longer to make the World Cup. But on Friday the two nations will collide once more.
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