Iran defender Morteza Pouraliganji said the team had fought “for the people” as they celebrated their last-gasp 2-0 World Cup win against Wales on Friday.
Goals deep into stoppage time from Rouzbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian kept Iran’s hopes of reaching the knockout rounds in Qatar alive after a morale-sapping opening 6-2 defeat against England.
The Iranian players sang their national anthem before kick-off after they had stayed silent for the anthem before the England game in an apparent show of solidarity with anti-government protesters.
Some Iran fans were in tears at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium during the anthem.
An elated Pouraliganji said after the win: “We fight for the people and we tried to make them happy.”
Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.
The crackdown since Amini’s death has left at least 400 people dead, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.
Cheshmi said he felt his team had been under “unfair pressure” in Qatar.
“If the pressure (we are under) was football-related, then that would be acceptable, but if our players are under pressure unfairly, that would not be right,” he added.
“This time, certain things happened to the players which were not fair. They were judged improperly.”
Cheshmi, whose goal in the 98th minute sparked scenes of delirium among the Iran players, said the “solidarity” of the team enabled them to win.
Rezaeian scored three minutes later to make sure of the three points, leaving Wales’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said he was relieved to be talking about football again after the team had faced repeated questions about the unrest at home since they arrived in Qatar.
“I think it was a wonderful day for us — we’re back to football and I don’t have the words to say thank you to our players,” said Queiroz, who is leading Iran at a third straight World Cup.
“This was an opportunity to rebound… to get back to credibility, to show the football we have inside our souls and in our minds.”
Iran head into their final Group B match against the United States on Tuesday knowing that another win would send them into the knockout phase for the first time in their history.
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