England and Wales make mark on World Cup on day of off-pitch drama

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It was a day that football fans back home had been dreaming of.

Wales, in their first World Cup for 64 years; England, getting their campaign under way with genuine hope of finally ending 56 years of hurt.

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And both can be satisfied with their opening salvos – Gareth Southgate’s men thrashing Iran to top the group, followed by Wales fighting back from behind to earn a point against the USA.

But this World Cup is anything but normal. There has been more drama off the pitch than on it so far, and it’s not much more than 24 hours old.

The decision to ban captains from wearing the OneLove armband – a gesture of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community – came late in the day, only three hours before England kicked off.

The frustration of the English and Welsh managers was clear, but in the end, they felt they were left with no choice.

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App problems leave fans stuck outside

Meanwhile, outside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, thousands of English and Iranian fans were still queuing to get in just 15 minutes before their game kicked off.

The World Cup app had crashed, and with it their digital tickets vanished.

Some were left to watch the match on their phones while sat outside on the concourse.

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 Iran fan outside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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Iran and England fans had problems getting into the stadium

Immensely brave Iranian protest

And while the OneLove armbands might have been replaced with FIFA-sanctioned ones, that did not keep the politics out of the football.

England’s players took the knee as they had promised to do so, as they did throughout Euro 2020, while the Iranian team refused to sing the national anthem.

It was an immensely brave move, one taken as a team in support of the protests back home. They had told us last week that they had discussed together what to do, at 4pm on Monday afternoon we found out.

They are well-known figures in Iran, a football-mad country just across the Gulf from Qatar. Their stand didn’t go unnoticed in the stadium, and it might not go unpunished when they return.

Such a heavy weight on such young shoulders.

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Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 Iran's Ali Karimi, Milad Mohammadi and Majid Hosseini line up during the national anthems before the match REUTERS/Marko Djurica TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Iran’s players refused to sing the national anthem

Wales fans stopped from entering stadium

Hours later, more controversy.

Wales fans wearing rainbow-coloured clothes were prevented from entering the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. Among them was former Wales national football captain Laura McAllister, who was wearing a rainbow bucket hat.

Now a professor at Cardiff University, McAllister wrote on Twitter: “So, despite fine words from FIFA World Cup before event, Cymru rainbow bucket hats confiscated at stadium, mine included.

“I had a conversation about this with stewards – we have video evidence. This World Cup 2022 just gets better but we will continue stand up for our values.”

FIFA has apologised to one, but has not yet explained why they were denied entry.

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Wales' Gareth Bale scores his side's first goal past goalkeeper Matt Turner of the United States during the World Cup, group B soccer match between the United States and Wales, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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Gareth Bale earned Wales a draw from the penalty spot

On the pitch, it could not have gone better for England. Southgate will be frustrated by the two goals his team conceded, but to put six past your first opponents is a dream start.

After a lacklustre first half, Wales fans will take the draw. A late Gareth Bale penalty gave them hope, and it is still all to play for in Group A.

The two home nations will meet in the final group match next Tuesday – a fixture that already whets the appetite.

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Tuesday sees Lionel Messi’s Argentina kick things off against Saudi Arabia, while holders France will close the day by taking on Australia.

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