FIFA invited retired Iranian football star Mehdi Mahdavikia as a special guest to Wednesday’s game between Iran and Spain, which took place in Kazan, southwest Russia.
With his characteristic energy, spirit and composure, over the last several days Mahdavikia has posed for photographs with members of Iran’s national football team and fans who have traveled to cheer on the team in Russia.
Spending time talking with fans and players at his hotel, Mahdavikia has appeared relaxed when posing for photographs and signing autographs. The former national team and Persepolis player has been known for his media- and fan-friendly style when dealing with the public.
Mahdavikia has earned the respect of fans and players alike. “One of my biggest honors in life is to say that he [Mahdavikia] will always be my role model,” Iranian footballer Alireza Jahanbakhsh was once quoted as saying on the FIFA website.
A few hours before the Iran-Spain game, Mahdavikia talked about his old friend Ali Karimi, another retired Iranian football star. “Yes, Karimi has criticized [Iran’s football] federation and the conditions of the national team,” he told the press. “But many have criticized them, including me. Didn’t I criticize the national team’s jerseys? Our criticisms did not mean that we do not want Iran to succeed. I saw how happy he was when Iran scored a goal against Morocco and he continues to support the national team.”
The international football association had also invited Ali Daei as a special guest, though the former star declined after expressing his thanks for the invite. “These days I am building a new village for the victims of the earthquake in western Iran,” he told FIFA and his fans.