Iranian team exits World Cup after loss to United States

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

While popular unrest raged at home, players were ridiculed by some critics for their links to the Iranian government and threatened by authorities in Tehran, who warned them not to show solidarity with the protests. In Qatar, they faced tough questions about politics in press conferences and anxiety on the soccer field, as Iran’s conflicts sometimes played out in the stands.

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

In the spotlight, Iran’s World Cup team quietly nodded to the protests at home

On Tuesday, as the crucial game against the United States approached, some of the Iranian fans gathered at Al Thumama Stadium seemed united in believing that the players had been through enough. Their team was used as a protection tool by the government or its opponents, including Iranians living abroad, and they fought so hard – those who claimed the team or denied it – that football became the latest phenomenon.

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The pressure placed on the team by the diaspora is “horrendous,” said a Houston supporter who spoke on the condition that she be referred to by her first name, Sherry. “Politics should not mix with sports. This is not the place for this.”

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

If those feelings eased the burden on the players, it didn’t show in Tuesday’s results. Despite numerous chances in the second half, Iran lost the match, 1-0, and were eliminated from the competition.

The coach of the team, Carlos Queiroz, who throughout the World Cup tried to paralyze the players in the politics surrounding the team, said after the game “about commitment, about delivery, about passion, confidence, what do they do. it was possible inside the field to score one goal. “

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The next time Iran qualifies for the World Cup, he added, the players will have to prepare better, but they will have to “have the mind, the spirit, the soul in the game,” in what seems to refer to all of them. distractions.

“Go ahead,” he said to the group. “Trying to gain respect, appreciation and credibility around the world. I think they deserve it.” But as he said, the videos were from Iranincluding Kurdish areas that have been occupied by the uprising, showing people celebrating the group’s defeat.

Months of conflict had been building up before Tuesday’s game.

Before the tournament began, an Iranian team, known as Melli’s Team, was fighting, with some Iranians asking FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to ban the team in response to the protest movement and bloodshed by the authorities. killed hundreds of protesters. Some think that the team’s appearance in the World Cup gave the opportunity to gain more visibility for the rebellion.

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As the tournament continued, social media outlets complained of a focus on the soccer team as the death toll rose. “The Islamic Republic of Iran scored 2 points, and Baluchistan received dozens of bullets,” read one post, referring to Iran’s southeastern fission.

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Ahead of Iran’s second game, against Wales, Iranian authorities arrested a former member of the national team who was critical of the government, in what is widely seen as a warning to members of the World Cup squad not to support protests. The next day, at the World Cup stadium, the Qatari police removed some fans who were wearing T-shirts supporting the revolution, apparently on the orders of the Iranian authorities.

Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor watched the US defeat Iran in the Nov. 29 in Qatar, advancing the American National Team. (Video: Joshua Carroll/Washington Post)

In all the chaos, the idea of ​​a “conflict” between groups from the United States and Iran – given the opposition between the two governments – seems to be an afterthought, or an anachronism, as fans from the two countries are easily mixed in the stands. Tuesday.

All the viewers have “different emotions,” said Sina, who was from Sydney and spoke on the condition that she only be known by her first name. “The Islamic regime is trying to hijack the success of this group,” 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 game,” he said.



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