Iranian team exits World Cup after loss to United States

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DOHA, Qatar – Iran’s national soccer team has weathered the storm before facing the United States.

As the popular uprising raged at home, some opposition activists derided the players for their ties to the Iranian government, and Tehran authorities threatened them, warning them not to show solidarity with the protests. At press conferences in Qatar, they faced tough questions about politics and anxiety on the football pitch, as Iran’s disputes sometimes played out in the stands.

The players did not sing the national anthem in the first game against England, in what appeared to be demonstrations of support that have spread across Iran since September following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was held in police custody. . But the gesture was not enough for some fans who chanted against the players, calling them “disrespectful”.

Iran’s World Cup team quietly nods to protests at home

On Tuesday, ahead of a crucial match against the United States, some of the Iranian fans who gathered at the Al Thumama Stadium seemed united in their belief that the players had been through enough. Their team has been used as a cudgel by the government or its opponents, including Iranians living abroad, and so fiercely contested by those who claim or disown the team that football has become a rush.

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The pressure on the team from citizens of the diaspora “is terrible,” said a supporter from Houston, who spoke on condition that she be known only by her first name, Sherry. “Politics should not mix with sports. This is not the place for that.”

Toronto’s Milad Seyedi, who has worn an Iranian jersey since the team beat the United States in 1998, said he wants the world to understand that the players “are the people of the Iranian team. They are under all kinds of pressure. Their families are under pressure. We are not against them.”

If that sentiment lifted the burden a bit on the players, it didn’t show in Tuesday’s result. Despite numerous chances in the second half, Iran lost the match 1-0 and were eliminated from the tournament.

The team’s coach, Carlos Queiroz, who has tried to insulate the players from the politics surrounding the team throughout the World Cup, said after the match that “commitment, delivery, enthusiasm, confidence made them do what they did. it was possible to score one field goal.

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Next time Iran qualify for the World Cup, he added, the players will need to prepare better, but they will also need to “have mind, spirit and soul in the game”, which seemed to be a reference to everyone. distraction

“Keep going,” he said of the team. “We strive to earn respect, appreciation and credibility around the world.” I think they deserve it.” But even as he spoke, videos have emerged from Iranincluding from Kurdish areas at the heart of the uprising and showing people celebrating the team’s defeat.

There had been months of controversy leading up to Tuesday’s game.

Before the tournament began, there was a fight over the Iranian team known as Team Melli, with some Iranians calling on FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to ban the team from recognition amid a protest movement and a bloody government crackdown. hundreds of demonstrators were killed. Others believed that the team’s performance at the World Cup provided an opportunity to gain more attention for the rebellion.

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As the tournament progressed, social media posts bemoaned the focus on the football team as the death toll mounted. “The Islamic Republic team scored 2 goals and Balochistan received dozens of bullets,” read one post referring to the clashes in southeastern Iran.

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Ahead of Iran’s second game against Wales, Iranian authorities arrested a former member of the national team for criticizing the government in what was widely seen as a warning to members of the World Cup squad not to support protests. The next day, Qatari police removed some fans wearing pro-rebellion shirts at the World Cup stadium, apparently at the behest of Iranian authorities.

Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor observed how the US on November 29 In the World Cup match, Qatar defeated Iran, which surpasses the US national team. (Video by Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

In all the confusion, the idea of ​​a “clash” between the US and Iran teams, given the antipathy of the two governments, seemed like an afterthought or even an anachronism, as fans of the two countries easily mingled in the stands. tuesday

Everyone in the audience “has mixed feelings,” said Sina, who traveled from Sydney and also spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Islamic regime is trying to hijack the success of this team,” he said, referring to Iran’s clerical leadership. The Iranian people “need America’s support against a violent regime.”

“But I want Iran to win this match,” he said.


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