DOHA: Iran’s football stars scored a famous victory with a last gasp World Cup win but scrutiny on the conduct of the team ahead of the decisive clash with the US will only intensify as its leaders press a crackdown on protests at home.

In a striking U-turn, the Iranian players sung their national anthem ahead of Friday’s match against Wales. Their silence when the song was played ahead of Monday’s match with England had been seen as a sign of solidarity with the protests.

Meanwhile there is no sign of a slackening of the protests or the crackdown, as Iran prepares for the already politically loaded match on Tuesday against the United States, which Iran’s clerical leadership likes to label “the great Satan”.

A prominent former international star from the last decade Voria Ghafouri was arrested in Iran on Thursday after he backed the protests and condemned the crackdown.

The protest movement that erupted 10 weeks ago after the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the morality police has created the most delicate of situations for the players who are household names in the football-mad country.

Many supporters of the movement have not forgiven the team for meeting ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi before heading to Doha, with the anthem gesture ahead of the England match doing little to redeem them.

“Mullahs’ children” and “A return to factory settings” were some of the terms of abuse being used on social media against the players after they opted to sing the anthem this time.

“Dishonourable mercenaries,” tweeted Kasra Aarabi, lead Iran analyst at Tony Blair Institute in London.

There had also been speculation that the Iranian players would not celebrate the goals. But the team erupted into wild celebrations as two late goals were struck against Wales in the final minutes.

Former England player and prominent TV pundit Gary Lineker tweeted: “Given the duress Iran’s players are probably going through, that’s a spectacularly emotional victory.”


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