Members of Iran's national soccer team could reportedly face retribution upon returning from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, political experts told the New York Post on Tuesday (November 29).
“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,” said Mike Baker, a former CIA covert operations officer, following Iran's 1-0 loss to the United States Men's National Team in its final Group B match in Qatar.
Several Iranian players had refused to sing the country's national anthem in an act of protest of the Tehran regime over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died in police custody in September after being arrested for failing to properly wear a hijab, prior to their opening Group B loss to England on November 21.
The players appeared to sing their country's national anthem prior to their loss to the US. on Tuesday amid reports of the potential threats.
CNN, citing a source involved in the security of the ongoing Qatar World Cup, reported that families of the Iranian team were threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players didn't "behave" during the on-field prematch ceremony.
The players were reportedly told that their families would face "violence and torture" if they once again refused to sing the national anthem, which they also complied to ahead of their victory in their second Group B match against Wales last Friday (November 25).
Baker said that a win against the United States would have served a political message for the Tehran regime and eased the initial transgression.
“The regime would have used them for their own purposes,” Baker said via the Post. “They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating ‘The Great Satan’ or whatever clever phrases they come up with.”
Iran state media had called for USMNT to be kicked out of the ongoing 2022 World Cup due to the United States Soccer Federation sharing a changed version of Iran's flag in order to show support for protesters.
The federation briefly displayed Iran's national flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic on its verified Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts in a now-deleted graphic of the Group B standings initially posted on Saturday.
U.S. Soccer said it wanted to display the green, white and red flag in an effort to "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” but planned to change the flag for 24 hours and had always intended to go back to the original Iranian flag.
“We have the main flag on our website and other places," U.S. Soccer told CNN, referring to the change as part of "a one-time graphic" and acknowledging that the original flag was back on all of its verified social media accounts.
USMNT midfielder Christian Pulisic, long dubbed as the face and future of American soccer, scored the match's only goal in the 38th minute of play on Tuesday.
Pulisic collided with Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand on the goal and was helped off the field by USMNT trainers before returning to the match several minutes later.
The Americans held a 51% possession advantage, as well as an 12 to 3 advantage in shots and 5 to 0 edge in shots on goal.
The USMNT faced a must-win scenario trailing Iran by one point ahead of its final match of Group B play.
The Americans finished Group B play with five points, while Iran finished with three points, following Tuesday's match.
England secured the top Group B seed with seven total points.
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