AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The cheering only stopped for the national anthem, and when it reached its peak, an eternity into stoppage time, it might be heard and felt across the Persian Gulf, if not across the globe.
Iran, a rustic mired in deadly protests and a soccer team making a striking statement, celebrated a 2-0 victory over Wales that might not have been scripted any higher for drama.
There was the incessant noise from fans at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, a constructing sense of confidence on the sphere and, in the long run — beyond the top, deep into injury time — a percussive strike of a goal from Roozbeh Chesmi.
Then got here one other before the group had a collective moment to catch its breath, a deft floater from Ramin Rezaeian, just before the referee whistled the match over.
WHAT AN ENDING. Iran scores two goals in stoppage time to get the victory over Wales 🇮🇷
Rewatch their last minute heroics in our 90′ in 90″ highlights ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/5PGDs1I5Fc
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
Players collapsed. Fans leaped. A couple of wept in joy, but most bounced in elation and carried the sensation out of the stadium, back into Doha and beyond, toward an important game with the USA on Tuesday that might resolve which team advances to the round of 16.
The U.S., which tied Wales to open the tournament, was set to play England, the leader in Group B, afterward Friday night local time.
The sport began with a dark pretext. Since September, Iran has been mired in protests following the death, in custody, of a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini. She had been arrested by the morality police for not adhering to hijab law, which mandates head coverings for girls.
In Qatar, across the Gulf from their home country, Iran’s fans have made their displeasure clear. The national anthem was met with jeers from many on Friday. A lady raised a No. 22 jersey with Amini’s name. Men and ladies cried.
The players lined up on the sphere, meanwhile, halfheartedly mouthed the words, a change from the opener against England earlier within the week after they gave the anthem the stoic silent treatment, a type of protest that drew global attention.
Beyond the backdrop of that unease in regards to the way forward for the country, with a fan base that could be as incessantly noisy as any here on the World Cup, Iran supporters exuded nothing but solidarity, sharing the stadium with the vocal “red wave” of Welsh fans.
“It was 90 minutes of joy, peace, happiness and joy,” Iran manager Carlos Queiroz said.
It was longer than that. A taut and scoreless match, tipping toward Iran within the second half, turned within the 86th minute. Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was given a red card after charging a ball well outside the box and taking down an Iranian player when he got to it; his ejection left Wales a person down and with a backup goalkeeper, Danny Ward.
At that time, Wales hoped to squeeze out a tie. But Iran’s attack had been buzzing, brimming with confidence, unshaken by a string of missed opportunities, including balls that hit each goal posts about 30 seconds apart. A goal was a matter of time, if there was enough of it.
“They posed a relentless threat,” Wales Manager Rob Page said, and not using a note of bitterness toward the red-card call. “We just couldn’t get moving into the sport.”
The ticking clock became Iran’s prime opponent in injury time. Eight minutes in, though, Chesmi intercepted a poor clearing attempt by Wales and, about 10 yards outside the penalty area, lined up a shot. His skidding scorcher just got past the substitute keeper’s diving reach.
Iran’s players poured onto the sphere. Fans turned their regular chants into uncontrolled cheers. The sport felt over. It was, not less than in spirit, if not in time. Soon, Rezaeian took a pass at in regards to the point where Chesmi had just scored. He took a few dribbles to attract a defender and the keeper, and eased a shot past them.
It was a second exclamation point for Iran and all its fans.
“North, south, east, west, it’s a present to all of them,” Queiroz said.
Iran had come to the tournament the last word unknown — a solid team, but one facing the uncertain effect of the turmoil at home. The 6-2 loss to England was a humiliation, and Queiroz tried to guard his players from the politics. He confronted a BBC reporter after a news conference, uninterested in hearing them have to handle questions on the protests.
He would love to think that Iran, now, is back to easily playing soccer, with a defining game against the USA ahead.
However the story line is way more complex than that. It might be seen on the wrenched faces of those crying in the course of the anthem or cheering the goals.
It might be seen on the T-shirts, like those sprinkled in the group that read “Woman Life Freedom,” but nowhere greater than on the jersey that bore Mahsa Amini’s name and age when she died.
It might be heard within the growing chants, heard around Doha, from the metro to the stadium plazas: “Say her name! Mahsa! Amini!” And it might be heard in the way in which people jeered the national anthem and, greater than anything, exploded with joy on the mere sight of a ball going right into a net.