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England defeat Iran 6-2

In apparent anti-regime protest, Iran team silent for national anthem at World Cup

Team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said last week that a decision on whether to sing the anthem ‘has to be decided in the team’ amid ongoing protests in Iran

Iran players listen to the national anthem ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 21, 2022. (FADEL SENNA/AFP)
Iran players listen to the national anthem ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 21, 2022. (FADEL SENNA/AFP)

DOHA, Qatar — Iran’s players did not sing their national anthem before their first game of the World Cup against England on Monday, in apparent support for anti-government protesters in their homeland.

Ahead of the game in Qatar, captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said the team would decide together whether or not to refuse to sing the anthem in a show of solidarity for demonstrations that have rocked the regime in Iran.

The Iranian players stood impassive and grim-faced as their anthem rang out around the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Some Iranian athletes have chosen not to sing the national anthem or celebrate their victories in support of the protesters.

Iran supporters wave their national flag bearing the word “Woman, Life, Freedom” during the Qatar 2022 World Cup match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on November 21, 2022. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Jahanbakhsh, who used to play for English club Brighton, was angered last week by a question from a British journalist about the anthem issue.

“Every single player has a different celebration and you ask about national anthem and that’s something that also has to be decided in the team, which we already talked about,” he said. “But we never made a big deal out of it, to be honest, because everybody is only thinking about football.”

The crackdown since Amini’s death has left nearly 400 people dead, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.

The state’s response has led to questions over whether the team represents Iran or the regime that has ruled with an iron fist since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Woes continue in game

England made a scintillating start to their World Cup campaign as Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham inspired a 6-2 rout of outclassed Iran in Monday’s Group B opener in Doha.

Saka and Bellingham were England’s driving forces with dynamic displays that underlined their emergence as two of the game’s brightest young stars.

Bellingham, 19, shattered Iran’s hopes of frustrating England when he rose to head his maiden senior international goal in the first half.

Gareth Southgate’s side were in sparkling form at the Khalifa International Stadium and goals from Saka and Raheem Sterling put them in complete control before half-time.

Saka, 21, netted again after the interval and, although Mehdi Taremi struck twice for Iran, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish completed the demolition.

There will be far sterner tests to come for England as they bid to win their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

But this was a welcome step in the right direction for Southgate, whose team arrived in Qatar on a six-match winless run that triggered scathing criticism of the Three Lions boss and his perceived negative tactics.

England’s Marcus Rashford celebrates with teammates after scoring his side’s fifth goal during the World Cup group B soccer match between England and Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The only concern for Southgate was the sight of Harry Maguire being replaced in the second half after being checked for a potential head injury.

England play their second match against the United States on Friday and conclude their Group B fixtures against Wales on November 29.

Just hours before kick-off, England revealed captain Harry Kane would not wear a rainbow-themed ‘One Love’ armband after the Football Association and several other European countries dropped their campaign in support of LGBTQ rights.

Because the armband was not a FIFA-approved piece of kit, it was reported any player wearing it would be booked — a risk England were apparently unwilling to take.

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