Open the Stadiums

One of the strongest social movements that has developed in Iran through football, is the one that fight for the right of Iranian women to enter to stadium in the country, and specifically for the Iran national team games. Iran is one of the few countries in the world that does not allow women to watch men's football matches from the stadium.

In every game in Azadi, there are women dressed as men that try to enter the stadium. Some of these attempts are successful, but most of them end with arrest. There was also a film about the phenomena in 2006, 'Offside', whose director Jafar Panahi trialed for 20 years ban of publishing videos, pictures or texts and allegedly six years imprisonment. Luckily, he managed to leave Iran before the punishment was given.

Women are trying to into the stadium dressed as men (@openStadiums in Twitter)

Women are trying to into the stadium dressed as men (@openStadiums in Twitter)

"We are trying to raise this subject to global awareness so that there will be pressure on the government to change the situation," says Shaharzad (fake name), the one who manages the Open Stadiums twitter account, who has been promoting the agenda of women's entry to stadiums in Iran since 2009. "When I started, there were many educated people who did not like it. They did not consider entering a football game as part of women's rights in Iran,” she adds. "Today it is clear to everyone what should be, and when the national team coach and captain, Carlos Quieroz & Masoud Shojaei, talk about it openly in a press conference supporting the movement, on a stage like the World Cup, it clearly brings us closer to our goal."

Shahrazad shares the personal experience from Russia. "The game in St. Petersburg against Morocco was my first time in a football stadium, and I do not even know how to describe how it feels," she tells BabaGol with excited eyes. "This World Cup and this team are excellent ambassadors for our movement. We are growing, but we need more people to know about it. Today people in every country in the world know that in Iran the women are struggling to see football, and very soon people around the world know and want us to succeed.”


Women in Azadi during the World Cup, when these change will be completed? (@openStadium in Twitter)

Women in Azadi during the World Cup, when these change will be completed? (@openStadium in Twitter)

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World Cup Preview: Iran v Portugal

Who? Iran - Portugal
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 25, 20:00 (CET local time)

Iran (Uri Levy)

Iran is about to play its most important match in its football history, and its for many reasons. A victory over Portugal, and Iran will go for the first time in history to the knockout stage. It is also a private derby for Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach of Team Melli, who was coaching Portugal in 2010 and was fired after a loss to Spain. He is now the longes serving coach Iran national team has ever had.

The movement of letting Iranian women to enter football stadiums in the country is progressing and advancing thanks to the World Cup. The sportive interest & achievements, as well as the high presence of female Iranian fans in the national team games are an imminent proof for the Iranian government that football is stronger than politics.

The match against Spain was broadcast for families and women at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, for the first time in 37 years. The movement for opening Iranian stadiums for women is led online by the Twitter account @openstadiums which is doing a massive work in arousing the awareness to the matter.

Against Spain the Iranian fans has stole the show and made Kazan sound and feel like the Azadi itself. The atmosphere in the Kazan Arena was simply electrifying. The Iranian fans took over the Tatarstan capital, present everywhere from the streets, to the metro, all the way to the stands.

Carlos Queiroz surprised all by leaving Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Iran's star player on the bench, instead starting with Mehdi Taremi and Karim Ansarifad with Sardar Azmoun, for whom it could have easily been a home match as he plays for local Russian club, Kazan. The Iranian defence was highly organised and coped well with the Spanish attempts. Iran did not fell apart from the Spanish goal, but attacked, defended well, and even scored an equaliser, which the linesman called off. “That’s ok, we are going to the last game with our heads up. We have a knockout spot to fight for”, Queiroz told BabaGol after the match.

The last match day in Group B is going to be as intense as it gets, as a serious option to make history is on the line for the Iranians.

Portugal (Yossi Medina)

The narrow win of Portugal against Morocco doesn't make an easy life for them. At the end of the day, Portugal are just one point above Iran and the match against Queiroz and his players may be crucial. Portugal, the European champions, are might facing an early elimination for the second consecutive World Cup.

Portugal face Iran once in the World Cup. In 2006, they won 2:0 from goals of Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was Ronaldo's debut goal in the World Cup and today he is the hottest player in the tournament with four goals. As usual, he is rewriting the history of his team, as he is the first Portuguese to score more than three goals in a single World Cup since Eusébio in 1966.

Another one who is facing the history is the manager, Fernando Santos. Four years ago, as the manager Greece he succeed to qualify for the knockout stage with just four points and a negative goal difference. For Portugal it will be much harder to do same this time, as they probably will be eliminated with a defeat, unless Spain will be defeated by Morocco with a higher score.

The Portuguese are anxious, but they are aware to the fact that they are the favourites. If they will manage to be calm and patient as Spain played against Iran, there is no chance that Portugal will finish this game without the necessary points.

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World Cup Preview: Iran v Spain

Who? Iran - Spain
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? June 20, 20:00 (CET local time)

Iran (Uri Levy)

Who would have believed that after the first match day in Group B, Iran will be topping the table, watching Spain & Portugal from above. In general, Argentina, Brazil, Germany have also lost points and suddenly Team Melli are feeling confident they can surprise the world and advance to the knockouts.

With all the excitement, the Iranians have to be careful as they travel to Kazan to play Spain, who arrives after a dramatic game where they lost two important points. In this position, Iran has an important advantage, as veteran fox Carlos Quieroz is much more experienced than Hierro, and for sure will try to impose his famous tactics & mind games, as he did to Morocco’s coach Herve Renard in the first game.

In other Team Melli Squad news, defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi got injured in Monday’s practice and unfortunately will miss the rest of the World Cup. The Iranian fans present in masses in Russia, so expect a great atmosphere in the stadium, and a massive support for the team who got its 2nd ever World Cup victory just few days back.

Spain (Yossi Medina)

Even though the game ended with a draw, Spain can be satisfied with the result they achieved against Portugal. The coaching controversy is part of the past and Hierro's debut gave a lot of optimism before the next match.

Diego Costa's brace against Portugal gave him a chance to be a contender for this tournaments top scorer. In some way, it's the chance of Costa to show what he failed to do four years ago, when Spain failed to impress and eliminated after the group stage.

One player will mark an important milestone. If Gerard Piqué will play, he will make his 100 international cap, being the 13th Spanish player to reach this number of caps. Piqué is maybe one of the most controversial players in the Spanish team. He is well recognized as a Catalonian independence supporter. Yet, he is still part of the Spanish team and wants to be part of any further success, as he did in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

As Spain is aiming for their second World Cup title, they must finish in the first place in order to have better draw for the next stages. Winning tonight is a must for La Roja, especially after failing to defeat Portugal and the fact that they missed an option to get an advantage over the European champions.

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World Cup Preview: Morocco v Iran

Who? Morocco - Iran
Where? Krestovski Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 15, 17:00 ?(CET local time)

The opening whistle of the 2018 World Cup is getting closer, and Group B seems like the most interesting group in the tournament. With Spain cutting coach Julen Lopetegui who signed for Real Madrid, the whole scene looks different now. Morocco, and Iran, will look to snatch their chance for a second round spot, as the match between them on Saturday will be a crucial one.


Morocco is coming in a good shape to this match and is counted as a slightly favourite over the Asian Cheetahs from Iran. Both nations have sent massive amount of fans to Russia. “I came from Morocco, and met here many Moroccans from Belgium, Holland and France”, says Ayoub Fajri, a Moroccan fan from Aghadir. “In Morocco we are excited for this tournament for a long time now”, he continues, “For months now that Casablanca is decorated with World Cup signs. I believe that you will see around 30,000 Moroccan fans here in Russia. Between 8 or 10 thousands arrived from Morocco, the rest from Europe”.

Morocco enjoy the fact that 15 players on the squad are born and raised in European countries, growing up in few of Europe’s best academies. “For me it’s not important whether a player has been born in Morocco, Holland, India, or if he is Jewish or a Muslim. If he loves Morocco, feels Moroccan and he is a good player - we love him and want him on the team”.


Despite having 18 players playing in European clubs - a record in Iranian football history - the Iranians have experienced quite a difficult preparation for the World Cup. The US sanctions regime against the country. The friendlies against Greece, Kosovo and Italy were all cancelled, and the Iranians have only had a chance to play against Uzbekistan and Lithuania - not a great gauge of the skill levels of their rivals in the powerful Group B.

In addition, Nike, the sports brand that represents eight players on the Iranian squad, have reportedly asked their representatives not to wear the company's shoes during the tournament - as part of the US-led sanctions. When politics get involved in football, it's always a complete madhouse - the United States couldn't even qualify for the tournament, but Trump's presence is felt here in Russia.

In any case, the Iranian fans are filling Russia and their positive presence is well felt. Queiroz and his players will receive their support, and hope to beat their direct rival for the group’ surprise. With Alireza Jahanbaksh, the Dutch League top scorer in the line-up it might actually happen.

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World Cup Warm-up: Turkey v Iran

Who? Turkey - Iran
When? May 28, 20:15 (CET local time)
Where? Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium, Istanbul

Iran (Uri Levy)

Iran will face Turkey as a preparation for their 2018 World Cup group B clashes with Spain, Portugal & Morocco.

After their friendly against Uzbekistan, who they won 1-0, coach Carlos Queiroz has made few changes in the provisional squad he began the preparations for the tournament with.

These aroused huge questions among the Iranian fans. The main omission was one of Iran’s best defenders ever - Esteghlal’ Seyed Jalal Hosseini. Hosseini, 36, a key member in Team Melli for years, but now young Ali Gholizadeh will attain more responsibility in the World Cup.

Another crucial cut was Charleroi’s striker, Kaveh Rezaei, who scored 16 goals in his debut season in Belgium. Having a variety of options up front, Iran had to release one forward of their loaded front line. Versus Turkey it is likely that Iran’s attack will be led by AZ Alkmaar’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who finished the season as the top scorer in the Netherlands & Sardar Azmoun, who is expected to be a key figure in the squad after another impressive year with Rubin Kazan.

Iran’s captains are two players involved in a controversy - Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi. The two have been a target for Iranian politicians and media,  after they played with their Greek ex-club, Panionios, against Israeli Maccabi Tel Aviv. Many called for their ban, but the ones who did supported them were the Iranian fans who made #NoBanForOurPlayers one of Twitter’s most trending topics in 2017. While the Political storm raved, Shojaei end up winning the league with AEK Athens, while Hajsafi became an indispensable part of Olympiakos. The two experienced and talented figures will lead the way for Team Melli against Turkey, and in Russia.

Meanwhile, Queiroz was quoted that he will leave Iran after the World Cup. Yet, it seems unlikely that Portuguese will drop such a significant project, as Iran will play the Asian Cup in January 2019 in the UAE, and the process he started in the country is still ongoing.

Turkey (Yossi Medina)

The Turkish national team failed once again to qualify for the World Cup. Their next mission is to prepare for the UEFA Nations League, in order to make an important step for Euro 2020. Turkey has been drawn to a tough group alongside with two teams that will take part in the World Cup: Russia and Sweden.

The coach, Mircea Lucescu, preferred to call up a lot of unexperienced player and there is only one play in the squad that have more than 50 caps, Mehmet Topal. Yet, Lucescu has few of the best Turkish players nowadays, including Everton striker, Cenk Tosun, and Roma young midfielder, Cengiz Ünder.

The biggest surprise in the squad is the absence of Galatasaray players. The Turkish champions had three representatives in the national team squad during the last year, Selçuk İnan, Serdar Aziz and Tolga Ciğerci, but none of them got a chance in this international break.

It will be the first match of the national team that will be played in Istanbul since November 2015. Back then, Turkey hosted Greece at the same stadium, Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium. The venue is expected to be full with excited local fans.

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