The Iran manager, Carlos Queiroz, confronted a journalist at the end of a media conference after taking umbrage at politics again dominating the discourse in the buildup to Friday’s match with Wales. In an animated exchange Queiroz suggested his peers should face similar questions, taking the extraordinary step of asking the BBC journalist Shaimaa Khalil why the England manager, Gareth Southgate, is spared questions about the war in Afghanistan.
During the press conference Queiroz reiterated the importance of press freedom but made it clear that he felt it was time for other managers to be asked about wider issues in the world, saying it was “strange” his rivals avoided such questions. Afterwards he took the BBC journalist to task before being shepherded out of the room. “Why don’t you ask the other coaches?” Queiroz said. “Why don’t you ask Southgate: ‘what do you think about England and the United States that left Afghanistan and all the women alone?’”
Queiroz was unhappy that Khalil asked the Iran striker Mehdi Taremi whether he had a message for those who are protesting against their government after the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. Iran’s players did not sing their national anthem before their 6-2 defeat to England on Monday in apparent support for protesters.
Khalil asked Taremi: “Your fans have been here cheering for you, your fans are back home cheering for you, there are also people on the street, what is your message for protesters back on the street in Iran?”
Taremi said the Iran squad were under no pressure to sing the anthem after suggestions they could face reprisals if they stay silent before kick-off against Wales on Friday and the USA on Tuesday. Taremi later added: “I cannot change anything, thousands of other people like me cannot change anything.”
Queiroz was earlier asked whether it was “fair for the western media and their journalists to keep asking Iranian footballers political questions?” The 69-year-old replied: “They have the right, the press have the right to make the questions that they understand are the right questions. We have the right to give the right answers. It is just a matter that we respect each other.
“There is for us not any problem with your question, whatever it is. It is important that if we answer whatever we want, you also need to respect that … There is nothing wrong that the international press make the questions that they want. It is the freedom of the press and we have the freedom to answer.”
Queiroz, who confirmed that the goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand would not feature owing to concussion protocols, said his players were desperate to focus on football. “Let them play the game,” he said. “This is what they want to do. Play for the people of Iran. Players are not the enemies of the supporters. To make them the only people that need to give you answers about human being problems all over the world, you can judge that. I don’t think it’s fair. I think it is time to ask other coaches and players about other issues in the world, and I think there are other issues in the world.”
As far as the football was concerned Queiroz repeatedly referred to Wales’s supporters as the Red Wall, describing the atmosphere they create akin to a “football party or show”, and he reserved special praise for Gareth Bale, who is set to break Wales’s all-time men’s appearance record by winning his 110th cap against Iran. Queiroz admitted Sir Alex Ferguson tried to sign Bale when the pair worked together at Manchester United.
“He’s one of the best and in this moment is not only the top player of the team but also the character, the leader inside the pitch in terms of conducting the stability of the team, managing the tempo of the game,” Queiroz said of the Wales captain. “He is a very intelligent player. I didn’t have the opportunity to work with him despite the fact that he was one of those players that in those days [at Manchester United] we tried to bring in. He is the image of ‘one team’.”
Bale, who made his senior Wales debut aged 16 against Trinidad & Tobago in 2006, scored an 82nd-minute penalty to earn a point against the USA in their group opener on Monday but knows victory against Iran is vital if they are to have a chance of progressing to the last 16. “On a personal level it is an amazing achievement, an honour to represent my country so many times but it is more important to try and get the victory if we can and make it more special,” Bale said. “We won’t just look at the England game and think it’s going to be a walkover just because England beat them 6-2, we wont get sucked into that. It is going to be a difficult game.”
Bale said he hoped schoolchildren in Wales would be able to watch their game for a “mini history lesson”. “Being a 10am kick-off in Wales, if I was one of the teachers, I’d let them watch the game,” the 33-year-old said with a smile.
“I hope they do. It’s a historical moment in Wales, for us to be at a World Cup. Some of the parents of kids I know all want to watch the game but don’t want to take them off school, so I think a lot of schools will put the game on for them to cheer us on and get behind us. It’s a mini history lesson, and hopefully it’ll be a great occasion for all of them.”