IRANIAN footballers appeared to cave to pressure from the brutal regime as they DID sing the national anthem.
The team who just days ago stood silent instead looking miserable as they mumbled their way through the song at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, ahead of their clash with Wales.
Iran fans waving anti-regime banners were disappointed as the XI appeared to give in to warnings they could face prison or death back home over the anthem snub before the game with England.
Protesters had already been active in the stadium before the game – but they were told to take down banners by Qatari cops.
Tehran has been brutally trying to crush an uprising over the death of Masha Amani, 22, in police custody in September.
She was beaten to death by the morality police after she was detained for wearing an “improper” headscarf.
But the decisions to sing the anthem could ease fears they may face reprisals back home.
Opposition activists had warned the players could face punishment, and Iranian officials have made veiled threats towards them.
And meanwhile back home, former national team player Voria Ghafouri, 35, was detained on Thursday during a training session.
State media reported the 2018 World Cup star was arrested for engaging in “propaganda against the regime” and supporting “rioters.”
He was previously the captain of Iranian club Esteghlal before his contract was terminated and he moved to Foolad Khuzestan in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
Many of the team’s fans suggested the reason behind his termination was for openly supporting the protests that broke out in the country in the past months.
Elsewhere, former Iranian intelligence chief turned and senior politician Mehdi Chamran warned of punishment for the national team.
Chamran – a conservative hardliner who is now the head of the Tehran city council – said: “We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and flag.
“Iranian civilisation has a history of several thousand years, this civilisation is as old as the total of European and American civilisations.”
Other top Iranian politicians also called for the team to be totally replaced by new players who are “willing to sing the national anthem”, reports The Guardian.
Iran’s state run media also attacked the team after their 6-2 thumping by England – but made no mention of them snubbing the national anthem.
One should not be surprised of any retaliatory action by this regime
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s favourite newspaper Kayhan vented fury – blaming the team’s defeat on a “unprecedented psychological media war”.
The newspaper also raged at Iranian fans in the stadium who cheered the team’s defeat at the hands of the Three Lions.
“This campaign did not spare any effort to create a gap between the people of Iran and the members of the Iranian national football team, as well as producing false dichotomies,” it said.
“This political-media movement, mainly Londoners, with the support and coordination of local patriots, from movie and sports celebrities to chain media and Telegram channels, and even reformist political figures, have joined hands to attack the players”
And even as the game kicked off on Monday, protesters continued to take to the streets in Iran – with reports police opened fire with live rounds on a one demonstration.
Another hardline newspaper Vatanemrooz fumed that protesters celebrated the Iranian team’s defeat to England.
Footage shared only shows people cheering and drivers honking their horns as the Three Lions scored against Iran.
Alicia Kearns MP, chairs the UK’s Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, vowed the UK would support the players if they sought asylum in the UK.
She said there was a “serious and severe” risk to their lives after they refused to sing the anthem – hailing it as a “very bold and brave political statement”.
Shahin Gobadi, spokesman for opposition group in exile the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, told The Sun Online: “One should not be surprised of any retaliatory action by this regime.”
He added: “At least 600 protesters, [including] at least 60 juveniles, have been killed and 30,000 detained by the regime.
“There has been a massive nationwide opposition and enmity toward the ruling theocracy, and all of the mullahs’ ruthless crackdown has failed to stymie the growing uprising.”
Political dissent is a crime in Iran – and is one of the offences subject to capital punishment, with 21 protesters already facing execution after sham trials since the start of the uprising in September.
Iranian officials had already been discussing cracking down on perceived disrespect to their national anthem and flag ahead of the World Cup.
Massoud Setayeshi, spokesman for the Iran’s Judiciary, said just days ago that punishments could be meted out for those who reject the anthem.
Iranian courts have been taking a brutal line on people linked to the protests, with more than 15,000 people arrested and hundreds killed by the security forces.
And just last month, teenager Asra Panahi was beaten to death after she reportedly refused to sing a pro-government anthem.
State news agencies also reported just ten days ago an Iranian cleric during prayers called on athletes who disrespect the anthem to face punishment.
Iran’s current president is Ebrahim Raisi – who is known as “The Butcher” for his role in the massacre of thousands of protesters in 1988.
However, Iran has shown restraint in recent months – opting not punish climber Elnaz Rekabi who competed without the nation’s mandatory hijab.
And the Iranian men’s water polo team – who also refused to sing the anthem – have also so-far gone unpunished.
She was arrested and allegedly beaten to death for flouting the strict Islamic dress code.
Dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters.
But there was anger as the national team remained in a state of silence.
The players however turned this silence into a gesture ahead of their game with England as they refused to sing the national anthem.
Iranian state television did not show the players lined up for the anthem before the match got underway just across the Gulf.
The Iranian squad could not avoid being overshadowed by the anti-government unrest that has rattled the regime.
Ahead of the match, no Iranian player had voiced support for the demonstrations by compatriots from all walks of life.
It is one of the most sustained challenges to the cleric elite since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Before travelling to Doha the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral while the street unrest raged on, drawing an outcry on social media.
Some Iranian fans who went to Qatar for the World Cup made no secret of their solidarity with the unrest.
They carried banners that read “Women, Life, Freedom” in support of the protests.
“Freedom for Iran. Stop killing children in the streets!” shouted one Iranian woman.
Another Iranian woman with the colours of an Iranian flag painted on her face said Iran is a football-crazed nation.
“But this year,” she said, “everything is different, all we care about is this revolution and for people to get their freedom back, and not be scared to just walk on the street, do and dress as they want, and say what they want.”
In the capital Tehran, some banners of the national team have been burned by angry protesters.
Pictures of children killed in the protests were widely shared by Iranians on Twitter, with messages such as: “They loved football too, but they were killed by the Islamic Republic.”
“Those children took risks for their country and were killed by the regime. The national team should take risks and show solidarity with the nation,” said Iran fan Hamidreza, 19.
The Sun Online also spoke to an Iranian football legend who vowed before the game he would be supporting England against Iran.