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Iran players get mixed welcome after returning from World Cup

After getting bounced from the World Cup by the United States, Iran’s national team returned home on Wednesday to a tepid response.

Amid anti-government protests, the Iranian players got a “subdued welcome home,” the Associated Press reported. Photos from Getty Images did show some fans with flags greeting players at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran.

They had put themselves in position to advance to the knockout round after beating Wales, but needing a tie or win against the USMNT on Tuesday in their Group B finale, they came up short with a 1-0 loss.

The defeat was celebrated in some Iranian cities, according to reports, in opposition to the country’s brutal political regime. One man was killed by security forces after honking his car horn to celebrate Iran’s loss, according to the Iran Human Rights group.

Earlier in group play, the Iran national team had gained attention for not singing the Islamic Republic national anthem before their first match against England in an apparent show of solidarity with the protests back home. The players’ families were subsequently threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players did not “behave” before the US match, CNN reported.

Yet the players have faced biting criticism from anti-government protesters who have blamed the team for not being more vocal about the security force’s violent put down of the demonstrations. Human rights groups say over 400 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, with thousands more arrested.

Tim Weah consoles Iran midfielder Mehdi Torabi after the US win.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Iran finished the group stage with three points, all from their win over Wales, two points behind the second-place United States, which advanced to play Netherlands on Saturday in the Round of 16.

— With AP