Iran’s national team romped to a 14-0 win over Cambodia in World Cup qualifying. The result was not the only cause for celebration though, as women legally attended a game for the first time in decades.
"In the beginning I couldn't control myself, tears were running down my face," Iran fan Nafiseh wrote to Deutsche Welle from Tehran. The 35-year-old Iranian was at the Azadi Stadium in the country's capital on Thursday afternoon for the first time in her life.
The word "Azadi" means freedom and, for the first time after 40 years of prohibition, Nafiseh and almost 4,000 other women were finally able to take in a match involving the men's national team live in the stadium for the World Cup qualifier against Cambodia.
It was an historic moment. Iran's 14-0 win was of secondary interest to the football world, but not for the Iranian women in attendance as they watched on with the world's eyes trained on them.
"It was a bit scary! All the photographers were fixated on us. I felt like an animal in a zoo," Donya told Deutsche Welle after the game. "I was surprised by how polite the female security guards were to us. They only warned us not to mention the Blue Girl."
The Blue Girl in question was Sahar Khodayari. The 29-year-old football supporter had been arrested in March for trying to enter the stadium dressed as a man. Threatened with up to six months imprisonment, she set herself on fire before her trial in September and died of her injuries.
A video from the Azadi Stadium on Thursday showed female security forces trying to arrest one young woman for holding a poster bearing the words "THE BLUE GIRL." In a show of solidarity, fans in the vicinity prevented the woman from being escorted out with various videos showing women shouting: "We miss you among us, Blue Girl."
"I still don't understand why we we've been banned from visiting the stadium for all these years and why we have to fight so hard for everything, even the most banal things," Nafiseh wrote after the game.
The stadium ban for women was religiously justified in Iran. The strictly conservative clergy claim that women must be protected from the sight of half-naked men and the vulgar environment inside the stadium.
10,000 fans attended Iran's World Cup qualifier at the Azadi Stadium of which nearly half were women.
Iran has since yielded to pressure from FIFA. World football's governing body had threatened to exclude Iran from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on the grounds of discrimination if Iranian women were not granted access to stadiums by October 10.
As a result, Iran had initially planned to open one grandstand for the women in attendance at the Azadi Stadium, which has a capacity of 78,000 seats and 72 stadium blocks. Just one grandstand for half of Iran's population? When the tickets went on sale they were sold out within a few minutes, resulting in three further blocks being opened up for female supporters.
"I saw many women in front of the stadium who wanted to buy a ticket to come in with us," Donya said. "But they stayed outside even though so many seats in the stadium were still empty."
"We registered that," reassured former French national team player Youri Djorkaeff when talking to one of the Iranian women who couldn't purchase a ticket. The 51-year-old was part of an observer delegation sent by FIFA to Iran.
"We are aware of the full details and will work with the Iranian Football Association to solve the problem in the upcoming matches," he said.
FIFA has demanded that women be allowed into the stadiums not just for World Cup-qualifying matches, but also other international matches.
It wasn't just the women who celebrated Thursday's game as a significant step forward in their decades-long struggle against the rules put in place by the clergy as well as against their discrimination in general.
It was also a special moment for those representing the Iran national team. Captain Masoud Shojaei and his teammates ran to the women's stands after the final whistle and thanked them for their support.
Alireza Beiranvand, Iran's No1 goalkeeper, demonstrated how close to home the campaign had been when he exclaimed after the match: "Now my greatest wish has come true: My wife was also in the stadium."