Much was made of the geopolitics surrounding USA’s World Cup match with Iran on Tuesday, but the animosity between the two countries’ governments was not reflected on the pitch.
After the Americans sealed a tense 1-0 victory to progress to the knockout stages in Qatar, the USA full-back Antonee Robinson took time to comfort Iranian players as they took in their exit from the tournament. The Fulham player embraced fellow defender Ramin Rezaeian, who was in tears, and spent time with Abolfazl Jalali, who had slumped to the turf at the final whistle. Images and footage of Robinson and the Iran players quickly went viral on social media, where he won praise for his empathy.
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Iran’s players had been under huge pressure due to issues off the pitch. In their first match of the tournament, against England, they failed to sing the national anthem in an apparent show of support for anti-regime protests in Iran, which began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. Conservative figures in the country have warned the players they may face consequences for their actions when they return home, and the players sang the anthem – albeit half-heartedly – before their games against Wales and the US.
Some fans in Iran celebrated the team’s World Cup exit as they believed the government would use any success as a propaganda tool.
At the end of the match, the Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad posted videos of celebrations on Twitter, writing: “Iran is a country where people are very passionate about football. Now they are out in the streets in the city of Sanandaj and celebrate the loss of their football team against US.”
There were also pockets of protest among fans in the stadium on Tuesday night. Some smuggled in T-shirts bearing the words “women life freedom”. There were also signs condemning US sanctions against Iran and some fans brought in flags of Palestine.