DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Iran continued their World Cup humiliation on Tuesday with a 6-2 loss to England in a match overshadowed by protests on and off the field.
Hard-line Iranian media sought to blame the defeat on the Islamic Republic’s unrest. Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 under the control of the country’s morality police. Iranian newspapers resorted to the familiar tactic of blaming foreign enemiesin particular, countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Israel are organizing protests to pull their national teams out of matches.
“Iran – 2; England, Israel, Saudi Arabia and traitors – 6,” headlined the daily “Kayhan”. The newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote that “Iran has been defeated after weeks of unfair and unprecedented psychological warfare against a team of domestic and foreign traitors.” It also added that the “political media stream” had tried to destroy the Iranian team by attacking its morale.
Iranian fans chanted Amini’s name from the stands, wore T-shirts with protest slogans and sang the national anthem on Monday. Many fans appeared to be conflicted about whether to support the national team as security forces cracked down on the protests. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests began, according to Human Rights Watch in Iran. As the match was underway on Monday, Iranian security forces opened fire on protesters in a Kurdish settlement in the western part of the country.
Another hardline daily, Vatanemrooz, reported that protesters in Iran cheered when England scored a goal, honked car horns, celebrated their country’s humiliating defeat in the streets and booed in coffee shops. From downtown Tehran, motorcyclists honked their horns and shouted, “Six!” England’s six goals against Iran. Authorities shut down a coffee shop in the northeastern city of Mashhad for allegedly being British.
“None of the players were mentally ready,” Shargh, a pro-Iranian reformer, told the daily.
Protests across the country initially focused on Iran’s state-mandated hijab, or headscarf, for women., but soon turned into a call to topple Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics. Filmmakers, actors, sports stars and other celebrities during the parade Publicly speaking out against the government.
The Iranian national team has come under huge pressure from protesters to show their support ahead of the FIFA World Cup. The players have faced public criticism since meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi last week and remaining silent on the protests. Several players bowed to Raisi and posed for photos.
“So you went to the president, this was your best chance to at least ask him not to kill children and teenagers!” Famous Iranian actor Parviz Parastway wrote on his Instagram account.
Before the start of the match against England, Iran’s players did not sing the national anthem and stood in silence as if in solidarity. During the match, they did not celebrate the two goals of the team.
Even the tiniest gesture of protest by players risks a strong backlash. State-run IRNA has sought to promote the team as a symbol of patriotism and national unifier amid the unrest, describing the players as “soldiers fighting to uplift our country”.
Some football stars who supported the protests have been arrested or accused of absenteeism. Moslem Moin, head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s Cyberspace organization, has called out four of the most high-profile retired players who turned down the government’s invitation to attend the World Cup as guests.
“England’s forwards didn’t score,” he wrote, adding that Iran’s defeat was the work of outspoken ex-players who protested off the pitch.
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