The US football team scored one goal in the first half of the most politicized match of the Qatar World Cup, defeating Iran and qualifying for the next round.
The Iranian national soccer team once again sang along with the Islamic Republic’s anthem before the match against the US team, a gesture that will further discredit them in the eyes of Iranians opposed to the ruling theocracy.
Many Iranians have been urging members of the team to show solidarity with people who have been protesting against the regime since mid-September following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, and sided with the Islamic Republic.
Both US and Iran fans were electrified in the stadium, but the American team won a fast and tense game and will the Netherlands on Saturday, December 3.
Following the loss, people poured onto streets in Iranian cities and held celebrations, chanting antigovernment slogans.
The capital Tehran and the nearby city of Karaj, Orumiyeh (Urmia) and Ardabil in the northwest, Dezful and Ahvaz in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, and northern cities of Lahijan and Rasht as well the southern city of Kish and central cities of Zanjan held gatherings, expressing satisfaction that its team failed to use the World Cup as an opportunity to promote regime propaganda. Security forces reportedly attacked the people in the capital Tehran who were out celebrating the team’s loss.
People in Kurdish cities of Sanandaj, Marivan, Mahabad, Javanroud, and Saqqez – the birthplace of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody ignited the protests – held celebratory rallies on streets in support of the protests.
Along with many Iranians who are fed up with the regime’s brutalities and are relieved that the team has been eliminated from the World Cup, US President Joe Biden was also happy after the match.
Before the match, a group of American fans were seen chanting, "Women, Life, Freedom," the motto of protesters in Iran after Mahsa Amini was killed in 'hijab police' custody in September.
Singing the so-called national anthem is a key moment for Iranians because it is a symbol of support for the Islamic Republic, which has been using deadly violence against the people for the past 70 days. Like the two earlier matches, the stadium was full of pro-government fans, many of whom were given free tickets and travel expenses to cheer for the Islamic Republic during the game.
The players remained silent during their opener against England but after the match, people’s reactions on social media and streets indicated that the gesture was not enough to elicit forgiveness for the players, who have lost popularity due to their lack of support for the popular protests. In their second match, the players sang along with the anthem and even celebrated boisterously after scoring goals and winning the match, setting the ground for the world to witness a rift in Iranian society.
Iran players pose for a team group photo before the match
Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken played down any link between the match and political tensions, expressing hope that the game would "speak for itself."
The national team players, whether they have been threatened to distance themselves from the protests or have opted to stay on the regime's side, no longer represent many of their countrymen. The Iranian squad – nicknamed Team Melli -- needs at least a draw to book a berth for the knockout stage but the Yanks must defeat Iran if they want to keep their hopes alive in the competitions.
Christian Pulisic of the US after he scores their first goal and collides with Iran's goalie Alireza Beiranvand
Team Melli 0 - 1 Stars and Stripes
Iranians showed a dull performance in the first half, conceding one goal while they were very lucky that the Americans did not score more.
Videos have already emerged on social media of Iranians celebrating after Christian Pulisic scored the opener for the US.
Iran won its previous match against 10-man Wales 2-0 after its humiliating 6-2 loss against England. The Americans, however, displayed a stable performance in their two earlier matches that ended with a goalless draw against England and a 1-1 tie with Wales.
Citing a source involved in the security of the games, CNN reported Monday that even the families of Team Melli players have been threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players fail to “behave” ahead of the match against the USA. The source added that the players were called to a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), saying that they were told their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing the anthem or if they show any act of protest against the Tehran regime.
Qatar, which has strong ties with Washington and friendly relations with Tehran, has staked its reputation on delivering a smooth World Cup, beefing up security at Iran games and banning items that are used to express solidarity with the antigovernment protests, like Iran's ancient sun and lion flag.