Iran striker Mehdi Taremi said the national team was under no pressure after the players refused to sing the national anthem in its first match at the World Cup against England.
The Iranian team’s decision not to sing the anthem on Monday in an apparent show of support for protesters back home made headlines around the world.
The players stood in silence as the anthem played at the Khalifa International Stadium as their fans shouted and made thumbs-down gestures.
Iran has been rocked by over two months of protests sparked by the death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s morality police, in one of the biggest challenges to the country’s clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian state television cut away from its live broadcast of the match as the players lined up before the game for the anthem.
“I said before that I will not answer such questions, but I will answer this time,” Taremi told a news conference on Thursday, the eve of their second match against Wales.
“We are not under pressure. In a football tournament, football journalists must be respected and everything that has nothing to do with football must be left aside.”
The news conference lasted just over 30 minutes, with questions about football taking up under a third of the time, and reporters were asked by the media manager to save their remaining questions on the situation in Iran after the match.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said the media had the right to ask questions on the politics surrounding games.
“Is it fair to continue to ask political questions? It is the freedom of the press and it is our right not to answer and to respect and understand our position,” the Portuguese said.
“Others should respect 3,000 years of (Iranian) history, culture, history, and science. Iranians are educated and humble and love what other citizens around the world like.”
The 69-year-old coach said it was unfair for the media to ask players questions about human rights.
“It’s strange that you don’t ask these questions to other coaches and players, some of them do not talk about such matters in their countries,” Queiroz said.
“Let the players play football like other teams, the players are not the enemies of the fans.”
Queiroz said goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand would miss the Wales game after sustaining a head injury during the 6-2 defeat by England, but would return for Iran’s final group game against the United States.
“We’re excited to face Wales who are back after a 64-year absence. The Red Wall (Wales fans) create a great atmosphere. The match against England was the best training to face Wales,” Queiroz said.
“I’m confident the team will regain its personality and winning mentality and prove we deserve to win.”