During Iran’s World Cup opener on November 21, the coach of the national team made hand gestures to the Iranian spectators to try to make them quiet.
Carlos Queiroz was probably reacting to some slogans being shouted in the stands of the Qatar stadium in support of the protest movement that has gripped Iran for more than two months.
After the match against England, the Portuguese coach criticized Iranian spectators, fans and a large part of the Iranian society for being directly responsible for the team’s humiliating 6-2 defeat.
Praising President Ebrahim Raisi, asking for money to answer a question of a Sky news reporter and now blaming the people for the most crushing Iranian defeat at a World Cup, makes him like a member of the Islamic Republic: a powerless individual claiming to be powerful in the world, looking for an imaginary enemy, avoiding responsibility, and finally registering humiliating results.
Queiroz's remarks are similar to what can be read in hard-line Iranian newspapers, which sought to put the blame on the nationwide unrest triggered by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
Newspapers turned to the familiar tactic of accusing the regime’s foreign foes, including the United States, Britain and Israel.
“Iran: 2; England, Israel, Saudi and traitors: 6,” read a headline on Kayhan daily.
The newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran’s rout came after “weeks of unfair and unprecedented psychological warfare against the team...from domestic and foreign-based traitors.” It added that a “political media current” has sought to “damage the spirit of Iran’s team by attacking them.”
The team’s starting lineup included five defenders (Mortaza Pouraliganji, Mehrdad Mohammadi, Majid Hosseini, Rozbe Cheshmi and Sadeq Moharrami) and three defensive midfielders (Ehsan Hajsafi, Ali Karimi and Ahmad Noorollahi).
Some players in Iran's football squad asked Minister of Sports Hamid Sajjadi in June to replace the then-coach Dragan Skocic with Queiroz.
A few days later, the players Mehdi Taremi and Alireza Jahanbakhsh met with Raisi and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhbar. Two requests were made: grant the permission to import cars to Iran and bring back Queiroz for a second spell with Iran's national team following the honorable results of the teams in the two previous world cups.
But Queiroz is not the final decision-maker in the national team.
Ali Karimi was invited to join the team after playing only six times for his club in two years, while Sardar Azmoun was nearly removed from the squad.
At midnight on September 25, as a violent suppression of protests in Iran was ongoing, Azmoun, the team's forward, posted a message of Instagram in support of the Iranian people, something that no player had previously done.
Azmoun, a 27-year-old Bayern Leverkusen player, ignored the instructions from the Iranian Football Association forbidding players from speaking out over Amini’s death.
As a result, the atmosphere in the team changed, with other players blaming him for "disrupting” the team.
Queiroz was under pressure, including from the head of Iran's football federation, to remove Azmoun ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The player was eventually invited to the team and entered the field in the second half against England.
Queiroz does not have any authority in this team. He was desperate during the match and told the players to only defend.