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Iran World Cup team 'faces retribution' after USA World Cup loss, claims ex-CIA officer

Iran’s soccer players sang their national anthem before facing the US on Tuesday in the World Cup, days after their families were allegedly threatened with imprisonment and torture if the team did not show signs of patriotism

Iran’s World Cup squad may face retribution upon its return to the Islamic Republic after losing 1-0 to the US on Tuesday, ending their chances of progressing to the tournament’s knockout stages. 

‘Given what we’ve seen from the Iranian regime … they’ve shown themselves to be brutal and there’s no reason to believe they’re going to suddenly become rational,’ an ex-CIA covert operations officer told The New York Post, adding that the Iranian players are being put in an ‘untenable situation’.

Last week, Iran’s starting XI against England stayed quiet before the start of the opening Group B match when the country’s national anthem was being played. The silence from the players was a sign of protest over the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who allegedly died from police brutality while being held in custody for not properly wearing a hijab in September.

At least 451 people have been killed since demonstrations in Iran started, and well over 18,000 have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists, an advocacy group following the demonstrations. 

Families of Team Melli’s playing and coaching staff were then threatened with torture and jailtime by Iran’s government if they failed to sing the national anthem prior to the team’s final group match against the US on Tuesday, a source told CNN. 

Iran’s soccer players sang their national anthem before facing the US on Tuesday in the World Cup, days after their families were allegedly threatened with imprisonment and torture if the team did not show signs of patriotism

Iran’s soccer players sang their national anthem before facing the US on Tuesday in the World Cup, days after their families were allegedly threatened with imprisonment and torture if the team did not show signs of patriotism

Ramin Rezaeian and Vahid Amiri, of Iran, look dejected after crashing out of the group stage

Ramin Rezaeian and Vahid Amiri, of Iran, look dejected after crashing out of the group stage

A meeting between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and all of Iran’s 26 soccer players was called upon after the 6-2 loss against the Three Lions, the source added.

In the next game against Wales – a 2-0 win for Iran – all starting players were seen proudly singing their country’s national anthem before doing it again against the US though a win would have helped cover the team’s offense in its first World Cup match.

‘The regime would have used them for their own purposes,’ the ex-CIA officer further told The Post. ‘They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating ”The Great Satan” or whatever clever phrases they come up with.’ 

Iranian players met with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and were warned of consequences of not singing their national anthem before a 2-0 win against Wales last week

Iranian players met with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and were warned of consequences of not singing their national anthem before a 2-0 win against Wales last week

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being placed under arrest in Tehran by the Islamic Republic's morality police in September

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being placed under arrest in Tehran by the Islamic Republic’s morality police in September

Iranian supporters show signs with the name Mahsa Amini during the final group B match between the US and Iran on Tuesday

Iranian supporters show signs with the name Mahsa Amini during the final group B match between the US and Iran on Tuesday

Several hundred Iranians have demonstrated against what they call 'massacres' by the Iranian authorities since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody

Several hundred Iranians have demonstrated against what they call ‘massacres’ by the Iranian authorities since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody

The Iranian players in Qatar have declined to comment or made vague statements about the protests in Tehran, which have intensified after Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi was placed under house arrest for taking part in a competition abroad last month without a mandatory hijab. 

Many Iranian women observed the athlete’s gesture as a sign of solidarity for Amini, though she was later coerced into making a forced apology after receiving threats claiming her family’s property would be seized. 

Now, the Iranian national soccer team could face sanctions or even arrest once they return back to the homeland after losing to the US, as retribution for their ‘traitorous’ acts and for failing to beat their political rivals, the ex-CIA officer said. 

‘Neither is good if you’re an Iranian player upon returning home,’ he told The New York Post. 

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekab is allegedly under house arrest in her homeland after taking part in a competition abroad without wearing a mandatory hijab

Iranian climber Elnaz Rekab is allegedly under house arrest in her homeland after taking part in a competition abroad without wearing a mandatory hijab

Fans hold up a shirt with the name of Mahsa Amini and a flag advocating for women's rights during last week's match between Iran and Wales

Fans hold up a shirt with the name of Mahsa Amini and a flag advocating for women’s rights during last week’s match between Iran and Wales

Iranian supporters have shed light over national issues in their country during the team's stay in Qatar for the World Cup

Iranian supporters have shed light over national issues in their country during the team’s stay in Qatar for the World Cup

Even some protesters at Al Thumama Stadium said they felt threatened by pro-government officials on hand.

‘The government of Iran does not look at it as just a football game but a political platform to show the world, ”Look, we are just normal people having fun, nothing is going on,” Farshid, a 47-year-old Iranian from London on hand for Tuesday’s match who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals, told the Associated Press. ‘But now thousands of people are in the streets of Iran.’

Determining when relations soured between the US and Iran depends on who you ask. Iranians point to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s power. Americans remember the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy followed by a 444-day hostage crisis during the Iranian Revolution.

In soccer, however, the timeline is much simpler. This was only the second time Iran and the US have played each other in the World Cup.

The last time was at the 1998 tournament in France — a totally different time in the Islamic Republic. Iran won 2-1 in Lyon, a low point for the US men’s team as Iranians celebrated in Tehran.

At the time, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the Iranian team, saying ‘the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat.’

American and Iranian team players pose for a group picture before the start of the Iran-US match at the 1998 World Cup in France

American and Iranian team players pose for a group picture before the start of the Iran-US match at the 1998 World Cup in France

Iran won the match 2-1 - a low point for the US men's team as Iranians celebrated in Tehran

Iran won the match 2-1 – a low point for the US men’s team as Iranians celebrated in Tehran

But off the pitch, Iran’s then-president, Mohammad Khatami, sought to improve ties to the West and the wider world. Inside Iran, Khatami pushed so-called reformist policies, seeking to liberalize aspects of its theocracy while maintaining its structure with a supreme leader at the top.

US President Bill Clinton and his administration hoped Khatami’s election could be part of a thaw in relations.

The two teams posed for a joint photograph in 1998, and the Iranian players handed white flowers to their American opponents. The US gave the Iranians US Soccer Federation pennants. They even exchanged jerseys, though the Iranians didn’t put them on. They later played a friendly exhibition match in Pasadena, California, as well.

Fast-forward 24 years, and relations are perhaps more tense than ever.

Iran is now governed entirely by hard-liners after the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, who took part in the 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

Following the collapse of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, sparked by President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the accord, Tehran is now enriching uranium to 60 percent purity — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. Non-proliferation experts warn that the Islamic Republic already has enough uranium to build at least one nuclear bomb.

A shadow war of drone strikes, targeted killings and sabotage has been shaking the wider Middle East for years amid the deal’s collapse. Meanwhile, Russia pounds civilian areas and power infrastructure in Ukraine with Iranian-made drones.

Iranian football fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match against the United States in a government center on Tuesday

Iranian football fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match against the United States in a government center on Tuesday

Back in Tehran, thousands of Iranians were disappointed with the team's elimination after the loss on Tuesday

Back in Tehran, thousands of Iranians were disappointed with the team’s elimination after the loss on Tuesday

An Iranian player lies on the field at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, seemingly dejected while American players celebrate their team's progress to the World Cup's Round of 16

An Iranian player lies on the field at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, seemingly dejected while American players celebrate their team’s progress to the World Cup’s Round of 16

Ahead of Tuesday’s match, Iran released a propaganda video featuring young children singing and waving flags, including girls in white hijabs, in front of a small field. Set against a blasting synthesizer beat, they sang: ‘We back you on the bleachers, all with one voice Iran, Iran.’

‘We are waiting for a goal, our heart second by second is beating for our Iran,’ they added.

But no goal came. Christian Pulisic knocked in a goal for the US in the 38th minute, and Iran never answered, despite a deafening pro-Iranian crowd chanting constantly during the match.

The loss will likely further enrage Iran’s hard-liners. Already, they’ve reacted angrily to a protest by the US Soccer Federation in which the group briefly erased the emblem of the Islamic Republic from Iran’s flag in social media posts.

Opponents of Iran’s government were on hand in Qatar with their own message. Among them was former US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, who served in the Trump administration and was one of the faces of its so-called ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.

‘It’s one of those pivotal moments when geopolitics and sports collides,’ Ortagus told The Associated Press. ‘You’re seeing the Iran team do what they can to stand up for the protesters and the people peacefully demonstrating.’

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