Who fancies another ride of the emotional rollercoaster? I’m afraid, if you’re Welsh or Iranian, you don’t have much choice. For different reasons, and in different ways, both countries ran the gamut on Monday. It’ll be no different today.
Let’s start with the football. Iran realistically need at least a draw to have any chance of reaching the last 16; Wales could theoretically lose today and still go through. But even in the unpredictable game of snakes and ladders that is the World Cup group stage, that’s not to be encouraged.
Their target is simple – a first World Cup win since Terry Medwin’s goal beat Hungary in a playoff on 17 June 1958, ideally with yet another who-writes-Gareth-Bale’s-scripts moment. Qualification may come down to goal difference, but it would be hubristic to think of that at this stage. Iran are a better side than their 6-2 defeat to England suggested.
But they also have other things on their mind. Even in this most political of World Cups, Iran’s situation stands out. I won’t editorialise here, and not only because I’m subconsciously terrified of inadvertently saying the wrong thing and being cancelled before a ball has been kicked. It’s a nuanced situation that is difficult to fully understand if you haven’t been following it intently from the start.
The players chose not to sing the national anthem before the England game on Monday, their latest gesture in support of those protesting against the shocking death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. There are fears of reprisals when the tournament is over, but also some confusion as to whether the local celebrations of that defeat on Monday were directed against the state, the team (for ‘insulting’ the anthem) or both.
We’ll come back to all that when the players line up for the anthems. I have to dash off and write some failed zingers for our rebranded daily football email, Football Daily – please su’scribe! – but I’ll be back with team news around an hour before kick off.
Kick off 10am GMT, 1pm at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.