Iran legend Ali Daei insists he won’t support country against England

Southgate confirms England to take the knee at World Cup

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Iranian football legend Ali Daei has insisted that he will not be backing Carlos Queiroz’s side in their Group B opener against England after declaring his support for the human rights protests currently taking place in the country. Iran will be hoping to pull off a stunning upset against the Three Lions at the Khalifa International Stadium in order to give themselves the best chance of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup, which got underway on Sunday as Qatar fell to a comfortable defeat at the hands of Ecuador.

Daei was one of eight FIFA legends who took part in the World Cup draw back in March but will not be supporting his country at the tournament as a result of the current situation in Iran, which has made international headlines over the last few months. The 53-year-old, who is currently serving a three-year coaching ban after criticising an Iranian club president, called upon the nation’s government to stop the violence against protesters while affirming his support for the families of those affected.

“I prefer to express my sympathy with all the families who lost loved ones over these days,” said Daei, who held the record for most international goals before his tally was beaten by Cristiano Ronaldo last year. “Instead of repression, violence and arresting the Iranian people, solve their problems.”

Some Iranian fans are expected to bring banners expressing their opposition to the way protesters are treated when they take to the pitch against England on Monday afternoon, with thousands of supporters expected to roar on their side at the Khalifa International Stadium. England will be the heavy favourites to pick up all three points but it would not be outside the realms of possibility for Iran to register a famous win as they look to make their mark in Group B at the very first opportunity.

JUST IN: What Southgate has told England’s Harry Maguire ahead of Iran clash

The Three Lions are expected to field an attacking line-up for their meeting with Iran, with Gareth Southgate set to revert to a back four in his efforts to lead the one-time World Cup winners to victory in their opening group stage match. Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will start in goal behind the defensive line, which will consist of Kieran Tripper, Harry Maguire, John Stones and Luke Shaw.

The back four will be protected by a midfield trio of Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount, with Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling expected to flank Harry Kane at the top end of the pitch. It remains to be seen whether England will be able to get the job done, though, as they aim to seal a routine win over their unfancied opponents to live up to their billing as the favourites to top Group B.

Southgate underlined his desire to make England fans proud over the course of the World Cup in Sunday’s pre-match press conference, telling reporters: “Look, our challenge is to give our supporters a tournament that’s memorable. We’ve taken them on fantastic journeys in our last two tournaments, and we want to bring [them on another].

“Our country is also going through a difficult spell, not the same as some of the other countries around the world at the moment but we’re in the middle of an economic recession and life has been difficult for a lot of our people. So, we want them to enjoy their football and have a journey with the team that brings some real happiness.”

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