AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Somehow the Iranian supporters made the Wales supporters look shy and coy. The two teams merged on the metro’s green line and spilled over to Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, but you could be forgiven for thinking the game might just feature one team.
Amid all the typically celebratory cheers, waving flags and honking for Iran — as incessantly loud of a fan base as there could be here — a few fans made measured protests.
A woman exiting the subway started a chant: “Say her name! Mahsha! Amini!” – which has become common here, amid the growing protest movement sparked by the 22-year-old’s death in September. Others wore blue T-shirts that read “Woman Life Freedom”. man from Shiraz, Iran, wore a shirt that read “Arrest of lawyers = beginning of your end” in English on the front and Arabic on the back.
When Iran’s anthem was played, the players, with little emotion, sang or spoke the words – a halfhearted difference from the quiet, expressionless treatment they gave the anthem during of the opening.
In the stadium there was no sign of Iran’s pre-revolutionary flags, the ones confiscated during Iran’s opening game against England earlier in the week. A man said there were probably flags and T-shirts hidden under clothing to display during the game.
Security has been trained to look for such signs. Outside the stadium, grim-faced officers patrolled in groups of five or six, wearing black and blue vests that read “security cells” on the back. A group of 10 officers surrounded a woman, argued with her, and took something from her, possibly a shirt.
Freed and frustrated, she disappeared into the stadium, where the only certainty is that Welsh fans, too, will be heard.