Saudi Arabia’s national football team’s success in its opening match in the 2022 World Cup was due to the support it had at home, as opposed to Iran’s team which lacked such support, a veteran Iranian commentator and pundit said, following the Green Falcon’s historic win against Argentina.
“A team that doesn’t have the support of its people is worth nothing,” Javad Khiabani said on Iranian state TV following Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win against Argentina in its opening World Cup match in Qatar on Tuesday.
“The [Iranian] people should support their team so that it can succeed. The reason for the success of the Saudi Arabian team today was the national support for them at home. The reason for the failure of the Iranian national team yesterday was the lack of national support for Iran,” Khiabani added.
Many Iranians have turned against their football team amid ongoing anti-regime protests in the country. They see the team as representing the regime rather than the people. Many in Iran went as far as celebrating Iran’s 6-2 defeat in its opening match against England on Monday.
The Iranian players chose not to sing their country’s national anthem ahead of the match against England, in an apparent show of support for protesters back home.
The players were silent as the anthem was played at the Khalifa International Stadium, where Iranian fans gathered in the stands shouted as the music was played. Some were seen making thumbs-down gestures.
But for many Iranians, the Iranian players’ gesture was too little too late. And the players could potentially find themselves in hot water with the authorities after they return home at the end of the tournament, particularly if they refuse to sing the anthem again in their two remaining games – against Wales on Friday, and against the US on Tuesday.
Iranian state television, during its live broadcast, censored the footage of the players lining up before the match as the anthem was played.
On Tuesday, Khiabani appeared in a video shared by state media – possibly under pressure from authorities – saying: “Sentences from me have been broadcast that are a summary of one long paragraph. I want my country and the Iranian national football team to be proud, so please do not continue this media mischief and if you want to judge my statements, watch the entire program.”
Protests have swept across Iran since September 16 when 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died three days after collapsing in police custody. She had been detained by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly not complying with the regime’s strict hijab rules.
Demonstrators have been calling for regime change in the protests which have become one of the boldest challenges to the regime since its establishment in 1979.
At least 416 people, including 51 children and 27 women, have been killed by security forces in the protests, Oslo-based rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on Tuesday.
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