Iran captain lashes out at English media after protest questions

Wales train ahead of the World Cup

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Iran captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh has lashed out at the English media over requests for his views on the current friction in his home nation after the death of Mahsa Amini in September. The former Brighton and Hove Albion winger has accused reporters of ‘mental games’ ahead of Monday’s World Cup Group B opener against England.

Wild protests are ongoing in Iran and globally after the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman who the country’s morality police had detained for allegedly breaking strict hijab rules. And reports continue to pour in from Iran regarding anti-government protestors receiving the death penalty ahead of a tournament marred by hosts Qatar’s poor human rights record.

The topic was bound to crop up ahead of England vs Iran. Still, Jahanbakhsh has taken a bizarre angle in claiming English reporters are attempting to unnerve their group-stage opponents. In response to his third and final question in a press conference on Thursday, the 29-year-old suggested a journalist he assumed was English wouldn’t have asked the question if their nation wasn’t in Iran’s World Cup group.

“So first of all, to be honest, I’m not surprised you are asking this question. I think everyone is expecting this sort of question, and I assume you’re from the English media. I’m going to start with this, that obviously it’s going to come up, similar questions, the next question definitely,” Jahanbakhsh said at Iran’s Al Rayyan training base.

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“To be honest, I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group, you would have come up with this question first. And secondly, we have been facing this already for a couple of weeks with all the English media — this was all the headlines as we get closer to the World Cup.

“OK, play a mental game, ask a question about what’s going on here or there or whatever, but we have just four days to go to play one of the biggest games of our lives, and all of us are focusing on that game.”

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Stars in Iran’s domestic top flight have shown solidarity with protestors by snubbing the country’s national anthem and refusing to celebrate goals. And Jahanbakhsh has revealed the national team have discussed what steps they want to take, although the main focus is on football.

He added: “[Not signing the Iran national anthem] is also something that has to be decided in the team, which we have already talked about, and obviously everyone has talked about it. But we have never made a big deal out of it because everybody is only thinking and talking about football.”

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