March 25, 2023

‘Let the kids play’- Iran’s Queiroz vents anger over efforts to politicise players

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 Iran coach Carlos Queiroz reacts REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

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The Star – DOHA, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz vented his fury on Monday about players being dragged into a crisis at home, telling compatriots not to harass and politicise his team and to let them focus on their World Cup campaign.

Speaking after his side’s 6-2 pummelling by England in their World Cup opener, Queiroz said his players, who have a high profile at home, had been criticised heavily and even threatened over issues that had nothing to do with football.

Team Melli have been in the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup, with many Iranians seeking their public endorsement for one of the most sustained challenges to the legitimacy of Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Fans have accused the squad of siding with a violent state crackdown on the unrest, during which activists say more than 400 people have been killed, including dozens of minors.

“To those who come to disturb the team with the issues that are not only about the football opinions, they’re not welcome because our boys, they’re just simple football boys,” Queiroz told a news conference.

“Let the kids play the game. Because this is what they’re looking for. They wanted to represent the country, to represent the people, as any other national team that are here. And all the national teams, there are issues at home.”

The protests have gripped Iran since the death two months ago of young women, Mahsa Amini, after her arrest for flouting the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Ahead of the match, no Iranian player had voiced support for the demonstrations, though the team’s captain Ehsan Hajsafi, on Sunday cautiously broke their World Cup silence on the protests and said his team supported and sympathised with their people.

But in a show of solidarity on Monday, the team declined to sing the national anthem before the match and celebrations of their two goals were muted, following similar moves by other Iranian sportsmen and women.

The Portuguese Querioz, who led Iran to the 2018 World Cup, said he was proud of his players for the political pressure they had to deal with and urged England and upcoming Group B opponents Wales and the United States to rally behind them.

“I hope…they are praising our players for the courage to be trying to play the game,” he said.

“Because it’s not right to come to this World Cup and ask them to do things that’s not their responsibility, it’s not their mission.

“They’re here to for the people to honour the people, to bring pride, to bring joy to bring happiness to the people. That’s the reason why they’re here.”

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