AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Somehow, Iran fans made those cheering Wales seem timid and shy. The two sides merged on the Metro green line and spilled out toward Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, but you could be forgiven for thinking that the game might feature just one side.
Amid all the typically festive cheering, flag waving and blowing of horns for Iran — as incessantly noisy of a fan base as there might be here — a few fans made measured protests.
One woman coming off the Metro started a chant — “Say her name! Mahsa! Amini!” — that has become common here, in the growing protest movement sparked by the death of the 22-year-old in September. Others wore blue T-shirts that read, “Woman Life Freedom.” A man from Shiraz, Iran, wore a shirt that read, “Arrest of Lawyers = Beginning of Your End” in English on the front and Arabic on the back.
When Iran’s anthem was played, the players, with little emotion, sang or mouthed the words — a half-hearted difference from the expressionless silent treatment they gave the anthem at the opener.
In the stadium, there were no signs of Iran’s pre-revolutionary flags, the kind that were confiscated during Iran’s opener against England earlier in the week. One man said that there are probably flags and T-shirts hidden under clothes, to be exposed during the match.
Security has been trained to look for such signs. Outside the stadium, grim-faced officers patrolled in packs of five or six, wearing black-and-blue vests that read “security cells” on the back. A group of 10 officers surrounded one woman, argued with her and took something from her, perhaps a shirt.
Freed and frustrated, she disappeared into the stadium, where the only certainty is that Wales fans, too, will be heard.