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Qatar World Cup: Iranian fans savour moment of happiness against Wales

Fans celebrate 2-0 win as coach Carlos Queiroz tells the media his players 'deserve to be supported'
Iran fans cheer during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan on 25 November 2022 (AFP)

Iranian fans have hailed their team's World Cup victory over Wales as a moment of happiness at a difficult time for their country. 

"After two months of bad news, let's forget everything for 10 seconds and celebrate," one Iranian activist, who watched the game at a pub in west London and preferred not to be named, told Middle East Eye. 

Standing outside the pub with him, four other Iranians said they all felt happy after Iran's 2-0 win, which came courtesy of two goals in stoppage time at the end of the match. 

Earlier in the week, Sahar, an Iranian woman who has lived in the UK for 12 years, said her fellow countrymen and women were "torn apart" over whether to support the national football team at a time when security forces are cracking down on anti-government protests, which broke out over two months ago when Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died in police custody.

In their opening game against England, Iran's players refused to sing the national anthem, an act widely interpreted as signalling support for the protests. Against Wales, players either sung the anthem or half-heartedly mouthed along.

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“I think it was a wonderful day for us. We’re back to football and I don’t have the words to say thank you to our players," Carlos Queiroz, Iran's coach, said at the end of the game with Wales.

Queiroz, who is leading Iran in a third straight World Cup, has responded angrily to his players being asked questions about the political situation at home. He asked one BBC journalist if she would ask England manager Gareth Southgate about UK actions in Afghanistan. 

Paying tribute to his victorious players, Queiroz said: “They deserve all attention and respect. I think today people understand these boys love to play football. Again, the players deserve to be supported and we did it for them. That’s the only reason we are here, to play for the fans.”

"We are gutted, there's no other way to say it," said Welsh star Gareth Bale, who was voted the worst player of the game by BBC Sport readers.

Asked about the significance of the result, Arron Merat, a British Iranian journalist, told MEE: "It's what the country needed."

Against England, Iran's players had looked shattered, exhausted by being caught in the middle of a political storm. "It's a different team," Merat said of their performance against Wales. 

On social media, Iranians were jubilant after a dominant performance. 

"The best player was the Welsh goalpost," said one. "God, thank you for hearing our voice. Iran is happy now," said another, a seemingly pro-government Twitter user, who appeared to be in the stadium holding up a picture of slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

The Fars news agency, which is managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), posted pictures of celebrating security forces. 

Footage of people celebrating in Tehran was posted elsewhere, while Iran International, a media outlet that reportedly receives funding from Saudi Arabia, referred to the "football team of the Islamic Republic" in its report of the result.

Elsewhere, people had fun at the expense of former Welsh footballer Robbie Savage, who before the game had said that he could "still play against Iran and win".

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