Iran’s World Cup defeat sparks despair and joy among regime critics

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An Iran supporter, dressed and painted in national colors, cheers on her team against the United States on Tuesday night – Copyright AFP/File Mike FIALA

Duncan Woodside and David Vujanovic

For Iranians, their soccer team’s World Cup loss to the United States was cause for sadness or exuberant joy, depending on their position in a two-month protest movement.

Caught between the clerical regime and calls to show solidarity with the protesters, the national team pressed almost relentlessly in the second half on Tuesday night, but could not cancel out the first US goal in the 38th minute, which resulted in an early departure.

That led to the extraordinary spectacle of Iranians cheering a defeat inflicted by the Islamic republic’s arch-enemy, often referred to as the “Great Satan.”

“Who would have thought that I would jump ten feet and celebrate America’s goal!” tweeted Iranian gaming journalist Saeed Zafarany.

Inside Iran, celebrations were especially marked in the western province of Kurdistan, the cradle of a movement sparked by the death of young Kurdish girl Mahsa Amini in police custody after her arrest for allegedly breaking the nation’s strict dress code for women.

A video shared online by Kurdish activist Kaveh Ghoreishi showed a neighborhood in the city of Sanandaj at night with cheers and honking horns blaring after the United States scored.

That goal also sparked joy in Amini’s hometown of Saqez, according to the London-based news website Iran Wire, which published images showing fireworks and sounds of people cheering.

Protesters also launched fireworks in Mahabad, Kurdistan, following Iran’s defeat, according to videos shared online, while Norway-based human rights group Hengaw also reported celebrations there and in the city of Marivan.

The scenes of joy were not limited to the Kurdistan province, reflecting the national nature of the protest movement.

Videos on social media showed citizens celebrating in the capital Tehran and Ardabil, Mashhad, Kerman and Zahedan.many with people dancing and cheering in the streets amid long traffic jams.

– Contrasting scenes –

It was a very different story in a hall in Tehran, where hundreds gathered to wholeheartedly cheer on their team, including the women, in a country where stadiums are often difficult to access.

“I am very sad that Iran could not beat the United States, but we are still proud of our national team and its players,” said Ali, a retiree. “They did the best they could and we’re not mad at them.”

In Qatar itself, US and Iranian supporters mingled cordially ahead of the deciding game.

Crowds wearing the stars and stripes and the red, green and white colors of Iran’s flag largely spoke freely as they entered Al Thumama Stadium.

Inside the field, Iranian supporters were sitting, and often standing, proudly cheering on their team without headscarves, some with the national flag painted on their faces.

– ‘Woman, life, freedom’ –

Iran’s players, after refusing to sing the national anthem in their first game against England in a gesture of solidarity with the protests, changed that stance for their second game with Wales, drawing opprobrium from some quarters.

The players sang the anthem again, albeit with little enthusiasm, in what turned out to be Iran’s last game.

Now they are returning home to a country that remains tense as authorities crack down on the mainly peaceful protests that have become the biggest challenge to the regime since its birth in 1979.

Following Iran’s victory over Wales, the judiciary announced the release of more than 1,100 detainees, including protesters, including former national goalkeeper Parviz Boroumand.

Emblematic of the divisions, an AFP video showed fights between pro-regime and anti-regime Iranians outside the stadium after the US game.

The footage showed a woman wearing a T-shirt with the protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” being harassed by Iranian men while giving a televised interview.

A Danish journalist said he was briefly detained after filming pro-regime fanatics attacking supporters of the Iranian protest movement.

TV2 Denmark’s Rasmus Tantholdt tweeted that Qatari security forces had instructed him to delete the footage, but he refused to do so.

Iranian supporters have had run-ins with security over sportswear bearing images of Amini or the words “Woman, Life, Freedom” in Qatar, which, unlike most other Gulf states, has cordial relations with Tehran.

Iran says more than 300 people have been killed since the protests broke out, but the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 448 people have been killed by security forces in the crackdown on ongoing protests. .

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