Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

A man, painted in the colors of the Iranian national flag, wears a jersey reading ‘Woman, Life, Liberty’ at Al-Rayyan, Qatar in Nov. 25, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2022

Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

  • Man wearing a shirt declaring ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ was accompanied by three security officers in blue

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar: Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.
Some fans were stopped by security guards from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.
The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.
Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”
Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.
After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.
“I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.
Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.
“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”
Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign, including the opening match against England on Monday. Iran’s players remained silent as their national anthem played before the game and didn’t celebrate their two goals in the 6-2 defeat. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.
Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.
“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.
Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.
An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.
“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.
A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.
“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.
“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”
After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country. Even as many Iranians celebrated the victory, protests continued across the country. Videos circulating on social media appeared to show protests and gunfire in the eastern city of Zahedan. The Associated Press was unable to confirm reports that protesters had been wounded there.


Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana

Updated 08 February 2023

Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana

  • The result also meant the match was a surprise relegation battle with Salernitana just two points further back

SALERNO, Italy: Dusan Vlahovic proved he is back on form with two goals and an assist to help Juventus win 3-0 at Salernitana in Serie A on Tuesday.

That snapped a run of three league matches without a win for Juventus. The streak had left the Bianconeri just nine points above the relegation zone coming into the match at Salerno following a 15-point penalty for false accounting.

It also meant the match was a surprise relegation battle with Salernitana just two points further back.

But Vlahovic helped Juventus push away from the bottom three.

He scored his first goal for the club since October in the 26th minute with a penalty after Fabio Miretti had been fouled by Salernitana midfielder Nicolussi Caviglia, who is on loan from Juventus.

Juventus doubled their tally on the stroke of halftime when the Salernitana defense failed to clear a cross and Vlahovic’s wayward shot came through to Filip Kostic to bundle in.

Vlahovic did double his tally two minutes after the break with a precise shot into the bottom right corner following a Nicolo Fagioli through ball.

Angel Di Maria hit the crossbar for Juventus five minutes later, while Moise Kean saw an effort come off the post late on.


FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners

Updated 08 February 2023

FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners

  • The Welsh soccer club lost their FA Cup replay with Sheffield United 3-1 on Tuesday, conceding two goals deep into stoppage time

SHEFFIELD: For Wrexham’s Hollywood owners, the sequel proved to be a heartbreaker.

The Welsh soccer club owned by celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney lost their FA Cup replay with Sheffield United 3-1 on Tuesday, conceding two goals deep into stoppage time.

A win for Wrexham, the lowest-ranked team remaining in the famous old competition, would have set up a match in the fifth round — or the last 16 — with Tottenham and star striker Harry Kane.

Instead, it was despair for the team from the fifth tier of English soccer which has hit the headlines over the last two years after it was bought by Reynolds and McElhenney for $2.5 million in November 2020 on the recommendation of one of their writers.

Sheffield United forced a replay by scoring an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time in the first game between the teams, which ended 3-3 at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. Reynolds attended that game but wasn’t at the replay at Bramall Lane.

“So proud of these boys,” Reynolds posted to his 21.1 million followers on Twitter. “And the 4000 plus away supporters who gave it all.”


South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

Updated 08 February 2023

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández also said he wants to add Bolivia to the group
  • Alejandro Domínguez, the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, highlighted the historical links

BUENOS AIRES: Members of the South American candidacy for the centennial 2030 World Cup want to host the opening match in Buenos Aires and the final in Montevideo, where Uruguay won the first edition of the tournament.
Government and soccer officials representing the joint bid of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay held their first organizing committee meeting Tuesday. Argentine President Alberto Fernández also said he wants to add Bolivia to the group.
One other bid has already been formalized: Spain-Portugal-Ukraine. Morocco and another joint bid of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece are moving ahead.
Alejandro Domínguez, the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, highlighted the historical links. Uruguay hosted the first tournament in 1930 and won the first title by beating Argentina 4-2 in the final.
“FIFA has the obligation of honoring the memory of those who came before us and made the first World Cup,” he said. “At the end, the ones who want it more win it. And in that Argentina and all of our countries have a tradition.”
FIFA will make the decision in 2024, two years before the next edition of the tournament takes place in the United States, Mexico and Canada with 48 teams for the first time.
Chile sports minister Alexandra Benado Vergara said Argentina’s World Cup title in Qatar gives an extra push to the South American bid, which she sees as stronger since other nations joined Uruguay’s initially single-nation candidacy.
“Argentina’s victory is also the victory of our region,” Vergara said. “We can totally say we will have a bid that is sustainable, clear, austere during these times of our region and the world.”
Vergara’s Uruguayan counterpart Sebastián Bauzá said South America “feels we have the right to organize that World Cup.”
Argentina’s Fernández said on his social media channels he wanted to add Bolivia to the bid because “this is the candidacy of the entire continent. That is why I will propose that Bolivia become a part of this dream.”


Disappointment for Sharjah Warriors as team exits DP World ILT20

Updated 07 February 2023

Disappointment for Sharjah Warriors as team exits DP World ILT20

  • Gulf Giants won the toss and chose to bowl first in final match of round robin stage
  • Sharjah Warriors' batting lineup failed to maximize potential, resulting in side's exit

The final match of the round robin stage of the DP World ILT20 League involved the Gulf Giants, sitting in second place, and the Sharjah Warriors, who needed to win to clinch fourth spot and a place in the playoffs.

On paper, the favorites were the Giants, having won six of their nine games, with one loss and two rain-abandoned matches. And so the result would ultimately go with form, with home team Sharjah Warriors dropping out of the top four, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals.

Gulf Giants won the toss and chose to bowl first. The resting of Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Lynn gave the batting a diluted look.

Chris Jordan was also rested, as was Rehan Ahmad, but the bowling was still very strong. Sharjah Warriors had to pick its strongest team, relying on Marcus Stoinis, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Evin Lewis, Joe Denly and Moeen Ali to post a competitive total.

The Gulf Giants’ devotion to bowl first was unsurprising given their bowling attack on a wicket known for its low bounce. However, Dominic Drakes’ second ball flew, taking the keeper by surprise. The fifth ball was hit to mid-wicket for six by Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who perished in the second over, pulling Sanchit Sharma to be caught on the square leg boundary.

Captain Moeen Ali took the responsibility of batting at three. He watched Tom Kohler-Cadmore taking a liking to Tom Helm, striking 4, 4, 6, 4 before succumbing to a superbly judged catch in the deep by James Vince. Sometimes one wonders why batters, even in T20 when on a roll, try and hit every ball to the boundary. Why not say to oneself after striking 18 in four balls, take one and move on to the next over?

Carlos Brathwaite was introduced in the sixth over, inducing Moeen to drive to deep cover where Drakes dived forward to take the catch but injured himself in painful fashion. He took no further part in the match. Another Afghani, Qais Ahmed, took the seventh over, conceding only four runs.

At 57 for three in the eighth over, David Wiese pinned Evin Lewis in front. From a distance, it looked too high but, it was out on review. Wiese then went on to clean up Joe Denly and then Stoinis, lbw, to balls which seemed to keep low. Then, he got one to fly off Woakes’ glove to point. This was an extraordinary performance from Wiese, who went on to claim 5 for 20. The Warriors could not come back from that, closing on 107 in 18.3 overs, a disappointing effort.

Their cause was not helped by Woakes’ first delivery, which speared off down the legside for five wides. On occasions such as that, as captain and team members, you can be forgiven in thinking that this is not our day. Nevertheless, the Warriors soldiered on. At 31 for no wicket after four overs, Stoinis was brought on and he cleaned up Tom Banton.

A throw of the dice was needed. Woakes returned at the end opposite to the pavilion, with only two men on boundary — deep square and fine leg. The wily Vince and Colin Grandhomme took no risks against either Woakes or Stoinis, knowing that to bat out the latter’s four overs without loss would open up scoring opportunities against other bowlers.

Only until the fifth ball of Stoinis’ last over did Grandhomme restrain himself, smacking six, before receiving a bouncer at head height in riposte. Undeterred, he took pickings from Mohammad Nabi but, hooking Siddique at pavilion end, he was caught on the square leg boundary.

Despite the Giants’ slimmed down batting, at 82/2 all looked straightforward. Local UAE player, Aayan Khan, who did not bowl came in at number four, only to see Vince lose his off stump to Junaid Siddique. His job to hold the innings together was done. Khan and Erasmus were left to steer the Giants to their target, Khan finishing with a six to close the innings on 108 for three after 16.3 overs.

The Gulf Giants underlined their all-round strength in this performance to finish top of the table in the round robin stage. It was, however, a disappointing night for the Sharjah Warriors, who, as Moeen Ali admitted, were not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. In particular, he felt that the batting lineup had not maximized its potential.


Pakistan bans spinner Asif Afridi for two years on corruption charges 

Updated 07 February 2023

Pakistan bans spinner Asif Afridi for two years on corruption charges 

  • The 36-year-old has so far played 35 first-class, 42 List A and 65 T20 matches in his career 
  • The Pakistan Cricket Board says Afridi had ‘unintentionally’ breached its anti-corruption code 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has banned international spinner Asif Afridi for two years after he pleaded guilty as charged for two violations under its anti-corruption code, the board said on Tuesday. 

Afridi, who was provisionally suspended in September last year, failed to disclose “full details of any approaches or invitations received by the participant to engage in corrupt conduct” and was found guilty of breaching the PCB’s anti-corruption code. 

The 36-year-old has played 35 first-class, 42 List A and 65 T20 matches in his career. 

“It gives the PCB no joy to suspend an international cricketer for two years, but we have a zero-tolerance approach toward such offenses. As the game’s governing body, we need to make examples, handle such matters robustly and send out strong messages to all cricketers,” Najam Sethi, chair of the PCB management committee, said in a statement. 

“It is bitter fact that corruption poses a threat to our sport as selfish corrupters lure cricketers in different ways and methods. That’s precisely why the PCB has been investing heavily on player education so that they remain vigilant and can help the PCB eradicate this menace by reporting approaches and if, despite all our best efforts to create awareness, a player falls victim to his greed, then the PCB has no sympathy.” 

Afridi was handed a six-month ban for failing to disclose any approaches to engage in “corrupt conduct” and a two-year period of ineligibility for the breach of the code, according to the PCB. Both sentences will run concurrently and commence from the day of his provisional suspension since September 12, 2022. 

The PCB said it took into consideration the admission of guilt, expression of remorse, past track record and Afridi’s request that the PCB considered his case compassionately, claiming he had “unintentionally” breached the code.