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Iranian soccer team mired in controversy ahead of World Cup

How the qualifiers will participate, and possibly lodge protests, during their trip to Qatar is still unknown.

Head coach of Iran National Football team, Carlos Queiroz, speaks to press in Tehran, Iran on November 14, 2022. Iran National Team is in Group B with England, USA and Wales within FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Iranian soccer team is in Qatar, the squad has been selected, and training for their first match on Monday, Nov. 21 against England is underway. But how they get there and what happens before and during the matches will be interesting due to the turmoil from across the religiously-controlled authoritarian regime.

Following the recent murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by the “morality police” in the Islamic Republic, thousands of protestors have been arrested. Social media is full of images involving young people mocking clerics and those in power as the calls for democracy grow stronger.

Those arrested might be in serious danger, as more than three-quarters of Iran’s parliament has called for the death penalty for the 15,000 detained, and the first protestor to be sentenced to death for “enmity against God” was sentenced on Monday.

The players on Iran’s team have protested the treatment of women in their country before, but the squad selected seemed not to have been altered for political reasons. That includes striker Sardar Azmoun, who plays professionally for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga in Germany and was the subject of pressure to be dropped from the team due to his sympathies to the protests.

What form protests could take from players is still unknown, but calls to move Iran out of the World Cup have fallen on deaf ears at FIFA to this point. It is likely we’ll see Team Melli in Qatar, but what happens during those matches begins a week from Monday when they face England at 8 a.m. ET.

Iran World Cup roster

Iran World Cup schedule

November 21: vs. England, 8:00 a.m. ET
November 25: vs. Wales, 5:00 a.m. ET
November 29: vs. USA, 2:00 p.m. ET