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Wales vs Iran: The history of the only previous encounter between World Cup opponents

The eyes of the world will be on Wales and Iran in Doha on Friday.

But in the only previous meeting between the two countries, no one in Wales was watching and captain Terry Yorath and his teammates wondered what on earth they had gotten themselves into.

The date was April 18, 1978, the site of Aryamehr Stadium in Tehran.

American singer Frank Sinatra had performed there a few years earlier, but there is no evidence that the ruling royal family kept Sinatra waiting like the Welsh 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 don’t remember much about that game. But I remember the helicopter landing before the game and we were told there were princes.

“The stadium was huge and we were surprised 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 to be an off-field culture shock for Mike Smith’s team, despite having visited the Middle East seven months earlier for a goalless friendly against Kuwait.

Political tensions rose in Iran and protests against the Shah of Iran spread as support for the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini grew.

Within a year, the Shah, the last Persian monarch, had fled Iran, and Khomeini had returned from Paris to assume power as the country’s first supreme leader.

Wales almost unknowingly ventured into this political maelstrom and spent four days in Tehran, having made the arduous journey from London via Turkmenistan.

The match was arranged because the Shah’s son – a die-hard Liverpool fan – wanted to watch the British team play at the Aryamehr Stadium.

Midfielder Brian Flynn, who came on as a second-half substitute, said: “I’ve always loved to travel. It was great for me to go to such a place.

“I remember this huge statue entering Tehran from the airport – and I thought it was something else.” Some ex-pats invited us to a party. We had something to eat with them, but we didn’t go out very often.”



I remember this huge statue entering Tehran from the airport – and I thought “this is something else”

Brian Flynn

The team soaked up some culture in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar before Wales won a tight match 1-0.

The match was decided when Thomas, soon to join Manchester United from Wrexham, charged down the left wing into the box.

Iran failed to clear the cross, and a lucky ricochet allowed Phil Dwyer to jump six meters.

“I saw the goal on YouTube,” said Thomas. “There weren’t many in the game, but I can honestly say I didn’t know anything about them.”

Flynn remembers the moments after the final whistle more than the game itself.

He said: “The Iranians were desperate to swap shirts with us after the game. They had these tops that were like T-shirts. They must have cost around £2.50 when we were wearing these lovely Wales shirts.”

Just six weeks later, Iran was at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, their first tournament experience.

Iran was defeated by the Netherlands and Peru, but a 1-1 draw with Scotland would have effectively ended the rule of Ally MacLeod in charge of the Scots.

Wales waited much longer for the World Cup. But on Friday, the two nations will clash once more.

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