Iran World Cup players’ minds on football, not protests at home

Iran captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said Thursday his team was focused on the competition at the World Cup and not on anti-government protests that have gripped his country.

Iranians have taken to the streets since September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested for allegedly flouting the strict dress code for women.

Jahanbakhsh, who used to play for Premier League club Brighton, was asked by a British journalist at a press conference in Doha if the team was able to concentrate on their opening World Cup match against England on Monday

“To be honest I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group you would have come with this question,” Jahanbaksh replied in English.

“Secondly we’ve been facing this a couple of weeks now with all the English media — this was all the headlines once we got closer to the World Cup, whatever the reason is,” Jahanbakhsh, who now plays for Dutch club Feyenoord, said.

“What I’m trying to say is we are here to play football and that’s the main thing everybody is focused on while we’re here.

“To bring it this way to play the mental game and ask what’s going on here, there or whatever. We are just four days away from playing the biggest games of our lives.”

Asked whether the players would join other Iranian sports figures who have refused to celebrate victories as a form of support for the protests, he said: “You talk about celebration; celebration is something very personal.

“Every single player has a different celebration and you ask about national anthem and that’s something that also has to be decided in the team which we already talked about.”

“But we never made a big deal out of it to be honest, because everybody is only thinking about football.”

Jahanbakhsh said he hoped the team’s performances in Qatar would make Iranians happy.

“Since I was a kid I was always dreaming to play for my national team. Team Melli (Iran) has always been a big dream for me.

“What I learn is to always respect the jersey and respect Team Melli no matter what and every single guy who represents Iran national team, we work so hard to be here.

“We’ve been through a lot of difficulties and throughout the years its been a lot of up and downs in every way we can talk about.

“But at the end of the day when football comes together we can make joy we can make happiness for the people and that’s all I want to say.”

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