Netherlands vs. Ecuador ahead: World Cup results and highlights

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The cheering only stopped for the national anthem, and when it reached its climax, an eternity after stoppage time, it could be heard and felt across the Persian Gulf, if not around the globe.

Iran, a country mired in deadly protests and where a football team makes a flashy statement, celebrated a 2-0 win over Wales that couldn’t have been better written for drama.

There was the incessant roar of the fans at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, a growing confidence on the pitch and at the end – well beyond the end, deep in stoppage time – a percussive strike of a Roozbeh Cheshmi goal.

Then another came before the crowd had a collective moment to catch their breath, a skillful swim from Ramin Rezaeian just before the referee called the game off.

Players collapsed. Fans jumped up. Some cried with joy, but most jumped up with excitement, carrying the feeling from the stadium back to Doha and beyond to an important game against the United States on Tuesday that could decide which team advances to the Round of 16.

The United States, who opened the tournament with Wales, were due to take on England, leaders in Group B, later on Friday night local time.

The game began with a dark pretext. Protests have rocked Iran since September after a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody. She was arrested by the vice squad for violating Iran’s hijab law, which requires women to wear hats.

In Qatar, across the Gulf from their home country, Iran’s fans have expressed their displeasure. The national anthem was met with derision by many on Friday. A woman held up a #22 jersey with Amini’s name on it. Men and women wept.

The players lined up on the pitch half-heartedly murmured the words, a change from the opener against England earlier in the week when they treated the anthem with silence, a form of protest that drew worldwide attention.

That uneasiness about the country’s future aside, the Iranian fanbase – perhaps as perpetually vocal as anyone here at the World Cup – exuded nothing but solidarity, sharing the stadium with the vociferous ‘red wave’ of Welsh fans.

“It was 90 minutes of joy, peace, happiness and joy,” said Iran’s manager Carlos Queiroz.

It was longer than that. A tight and goalless game that tipped towards Iran in the second half turned in the 86th minute. Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey received a red card after firing a ball well outside the box and tripping an Iranian player; His throw let Wales down a man and a backup goalkeeper, Danny Ward.

At this point, Wales were hoping to squeeze out a draw. But Iran’s attack was buzzing, full of confidence, unshaken by a string of missed opportunities, including balls that hit both goalposts about 30 seconds apart. A goal was a matter of time when there were enough of them.

“They were a constant threat,” said Wales manager Rob Page without a trace of bitterness about the red card. “We just didn’t get into the game.”

The ticking clock became Iran’s main opponent in stoppage time. Eight minutes later, however, Cheshmi intercepted a poor clearance from Wales and fired a shot about 10 yards outside the box. His flinging scorcher just missed the reserve keeper’s diving range.

Iran’s players poured onto the field. Fans turned their steady chants into uncontrolled cheers. The game felt over. It was, at least in spirit, if not in time. Soon Rezaeian fitted roughly where Cheshmi had just struck. He took a few dribbles to pull a defender and the keeper and eased a shot past them.

It was a second exclamation point for Iran and all of its fans.

“North, South, East, West, it’s a gift to everyone,” Queiroz said.

Iran had arrived at the tournament as the ultimate unknown – a solid side but facing the uncertain effects of the turmoil at home. The Iranians’ 6-2 defeat by England on Monday was embarrassing and Queiroz tried to shield his players from politics. He confronted a BBC reporter after a press conference after he was fed up with his team having to answer questions about the protests.

He would like to believe that Iran is now simply playing football again and that a decisive game against the United States is imminent.

But the plot is much more complex than that. It could be seen in the twisted faces of those who cried during the anthem or celebrated the goals.

It was seen on the t-shirts, like those strewn about the crowd, which read “Woman Life Freedom” but nowhere more so than on the jersey, which bore Amini’s name and age when she died.

It could be heard in the growing chants that could be heard around Doha, from the subway to the stadium plazas: “Say her name! mahsa! Amini!” And people could be heard hooting the national anthem and exploding with joy, especially at the mere sight of a ball going into a net.