Iranian team exits World Cup after loss to United States


DOHA, Qatar – The players of the Iranian national football team faced a firestorm, even before they faced the United States.

As a popular uprising broke out at home, some opposition activists mocked the players for their association with the Iranian government and threatened them by authorities in Tehran who warned them not to express solidarity with the protests. In Qatar, they faced tough questions about politics in press conferences and anxiety on the soccer field, where Iranian disputes sometimes played out in the stands.

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

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By Tuesday, as the crucial match against the United States approached, some of Iran’s fans gathered at Al Thumama Stadium seemed united in their conviction that the players had had enough. Their team has been used as a cudgel by the government or its opponents, including Iranians living abroad, and has been fought so hard – by those claiming or disavowing the team – that football has become an afterthought.

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A supporter from Houston, who spoke on condition of being referred to only by her first name, Sherry, said the pressure piled on the team by citizens in the diaspora is “awful.” Politics should not be mixed with sports. This is not the place for that.”

Milad Seydi, from Toronto, who wore an Iranian jersey from 1998, when the team beat the United States, said he wanted the world to understand that the players are “Iran’s team. They are under all kinds of pressure. Their families are under pressure. We are not against them.”

If those sentiments took some of the burden off the players, they didn’t show up in Tuesday’s result. Despite many chances in the second half, Iran lost the match 1-0, and was eliminated from the tournament.

The team’s coach, Carlos Queiroz, who has tried throughout the World Cup to isolate the players from the politics that revolve around the team, said after the match that “in terms of commitment, in terms of delivery, in enthusiasm and confidence, they did what was possible on the field to score one goal”.

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He added that the next time Iran qualifies for the World Cup, the players will have to prepare better, but they will also need to “have the brains, the soul and the spirit in the game”, in what appeared to be a reference to everyone. distractions.

“Keep it going,” he said of the team. “You are trying to gain respect, appreciation and credibility around the world. I think they deserve it.” But even as he spoke, from Iranincluding the Kurdish regions that were the center of the uprising, people celebrate the team’s defeat.

Months of controversy preceded Tuesday’s match.

Before the start of the tournament, the Iranian team, known as Team Melli, was the subject of contention, with some Iranians calling on FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, to ban the team in recognition of the protest movement and the bloody crackdown by the authorities. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed. Others believe that the team’s World Cup appearance presented an opportunity to gain more exposure in the Uprising.

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As the tournament got underway, posts on social media lamented the focus on the soccer team as the death toll soared. “The Islamic Republic’s team scored two goals, and Balochistan received dozens of bullets,” said one of the posts, referring to the crackdowns in southeastern Iran.

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Prior to Iran’s second match against Wales, Iranian authorities arrested a former member of the national team who had been critical of the government, in what was widely seen as a warning to members of the World Cup team not to support the protests. The next day, at the World Cup stadium, Qatari police officers removed some fans who were wearing T-shirts supporting the uprising, apparently at the request of the Iranian authorities.

Washington Post columnist Ishan Tharoor watched as the United States defeated Iran in the World Cup match on November 29 in Qatar, in which the US national team is leading. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Amidst all the turmoil, the idea of ​​a “clash” between teams from the US and Iran – given the antipathy between the two governments – seemed like an afterthought, or even an anachronism, as fans from the two countries mingled effortlessly in the stands. Tuesday.

Senna, who flew in from Sydney and also spoke on condition that he only be referred to by his first name, said all spectators had “mixed feelings”. “The Islamic regime is trying to hijack the success of this team,” he said, referring to Iran’s religious leadership. The Iranian people “need American support against a violent regime.”

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


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