Iran captain Ehsan Hajsafi called for change and sent condolences to bereaved families ahead of a World Cup opener against England that pales into insignificance given the human rights atrocities taking place at home.
Team Melli kick off their third successive finals appearance at the Khalifa International Stadium against Gareth Southgate’s side in Monday’s Group B opener.
There have been calls for Iran to be kicked out of the World Cup having acknowledged supplying weapons to Russia on top of the continued oppressive response to those protesting for gender equality in Iran.
The death of Mahsa Amini sparked widespread protests in September after the 22-year-old died in custody having been detained for allegedly failing to follow the country’s Islamic dress code.
Iran Human Rights reported this weekend that at least 378 people have been killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests, with over 40 killed by state security forces in the last week alone.
More than 15,000 protestors have reportedly been detained and Iran captain Hajsafi started Sunday’s press conference by saying: “Before anything else, I would like to express my condolences to all of the bereaved families in Iran.
“They should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathise with them.”
Iran team-mate Saman Ghoddos, who plays for Brentford, spoke about the need for “freedom” in a recent interview, saying “something needs to change”.
Ex-Brighton winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh this week accused the English media of trying to destabilise the Iranian national team with questions about protests at home – but Hajsafi did not shy away from the issue.
“We cannot deny the conditions – the conditions in my country are not good and the players know it also,” the AEK Athens defender said.
“But tomorrow we are going to have a very important game and of course whenever you start a competition the first games are very important.
“We hope to reach a favourable result and I hope we can make our people happy.”
Asked further about the situation in Iran, skipper Hajsafi said: “Well, we have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right, and our people are not happy.
“We are here but it does not mean that we should not be their voice, or we must not respect them.
“Whatever we have is from them. We have to fight, we have to perform the best we can and score goals, and to present the brave people of Iran with the results.
“And I hope that the conditions change to the expectations of the people.”
Hajsafi spoke bravely about the situation at a press conference nominally previewing the group match against England.
Carlos Queiroz – Sir Alex Ferguson’s former assistant manager at Manchester United – is coaching Iran at a third World Cup finals and has been impressed by Monday’s opponents.
“This new generation that Gareth Southgate is bringing for the national team in my opinion is probably the most competitive English national team since 1966 that I had the opportunity to see,” the Portuguese said.
“I remember that team very well but this team it is very, very functional, very practical, very realistic.
“I work with the generation of Rio (Ferdinand), Paul Scholes, David Beckham, all those guys.
“But this national team is really, really different because they make a realistic approach to any single game, which makes them very, very dangerous.”