Alireza Jahanbakhsh claims England are trying to disrupt Iran’s preparations ahead of World Cup 2022 opener

ALIREZA JAHANBAKHSH has suggested there is a concerted English effort to disrupt Iran’s preparations ahead of Monday’s World Cup opener.

There have been mass anti-government protests in Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by the country’s so-called ‘morality’ police for allegedly breaking their hijab rules.

Iran suggest England are trying to disrupt their World Cup preparations1

Iran suggest England are trying to disrupt their World Cup preparationsCredit: Reuters

Human Rights Activists News Agency estimates 15,800 have been detained and 341 killed in the protests.

Some sports people have shown solidarity with the protestors, including Iran forward Sardar Azmoun.

Yet when asked about how the political situation back home has affected the squad ahead of their World Cup campaign, Jahanbakhsh hit back, hinting at an ulterior motive from his English inquisitor.

Speaking ahead of Monday’s group opener against the Three Lions, the former Brighton forward, 29, said: “So first of all to be honest I’m not surprised you are asking this question. 

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“I think everyone is expecting this sort of question and I assume you’re from the English media probably. 

“I’m going to start with this that obviously it’s going to come up, similar questions, the next question definitely. 

“But like everyone of you know we are here for our duty and our duty is to play football. To be honest, I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group you would have come with this question firstly. 

“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 whatever the reason is.

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“What I’m trying to say – and I’m sure you’re going to ask Ali (Beiranvand, his team-mate) the same question – is that we are out here to play football and that is the main thing everybody is focused on. 

“Why are we here? To be honest if you ask this question outside my duty to the national team I would have answered the question with a different view. 

“But since I was a kid I was always dreaming to play for the national team and Team Melli has always been a big dream for me and I’m sure it’s the same for everyone in the squad. 

“We always want to respect the jersey and to respect Team Melli no matter what and every single guy who represents the Iran national team has worked so hard to be here and for the last World Cups. 

“We’ve been through a lot of difficulties and listen, throughout the years there have been a lot of up and downs in every way we can talk about but when football comes together I think we can make joy and we can make happiness for people.

“That’s all I want to say because listen to bring it this way – 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 – every single person involved in Team Melli – and all of us are focusing on that game.”

Jahanbakhsh was also asked whether he would celebrate a goal if he scored and if the team would sing the national anthem.

Players in the Iranian league have refused to celebrate goals for months now in a show of solidarity with those protesting against their government.

When they do net, usually the player brings their hands down – a gesture where the intention appears to be to remind those watching of what is going on in the country.

While some players in the squad have not sung their national anthem in recent games.

The ex-Albion ace, who famously netted an overhead kick against Chelsea on New Year’s Day 2020, replied: “You talk about celebrations?

“Celebrations are something very personal, every single player has different celebrations and you ask about the national anthem that is also something that has to be decided in the team, which we have already talked about and obviously everyone has talked about it. 

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“But we have never made a big deal out of it because everybody is only thinking and talking about football. 

“I’m just saying that for everybody who is here in this room, that’s the answer from me and every single player who is representing Team Melli.”

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