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FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH — Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

Iranian woman charged for attending games sets herself on fire, dies

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An Iranian woman who was set to be sent to prison for sneaking into a soccer game in Tehran has died after setting herself on fire.

Since 1981 women have not been able to attend stadiums to watch male sporting events in Iran. Recently many women have successfully disguised themselves as men to attend matches.

Last week the female fan, Sahar Khodayari, set herself on fire after her trial for trying to enter a stadium disguised as a man was postponed. She was initially charged in March and released from jail after three days and she had waited six months for her trial.

Reports suggest that after her trial was postponed she returned to the court house and overhead somebody saying she would got to jail for six months to two years.

Khodayari then set herself on fire and a week later she died in hospital from her injuries.

She is known around the world as “blue girl” in reference to Esteqlal, the team in Tehran she supports.

FIFA gave Iran a deadline of Aug. 31 to allow women into stadiums, as president Gianni Infantino previously visited Tehran.

World soccer’s governing body released this statement following Sahar’s death.

“We are aware of that tragedy and deeply regret it. FIFA convey our condolences to the family and friends of Sahar and reiterate our calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women in Iran.”

FIFA clears Iraq to host World Cup qualifying games in Basra

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ZURICH — FIFA says the southern Iraqi city of Basra can host the national team’s return to playing World Cup qualifying games at home.

Security concerns since the 1980s have forced Iraq to host most qualifiers in neutral countries. Iraq played “home” games in Iran, Jordan and Malaysia in a failed attempt to reach the 2018 tournament.

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FIFA says “following a security assessment by a FIFA delegation” Basra can stage games in qualifying for the 2022 edition.

Iraq hosts Hong Kong on Oct. 10, likely at the 65,000-capacity Basra Sports City stadium.

Top-ranked Iran visits on Nov. 14.

Iraq’s group in the current phase of qualifying also includes Bahrain and Cambodia.

Amid widespread pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against China’s rule, FIFA says it is “closely monitoring the situation” ahead of the national team’s Sept. 10 qualifier against Iran.

Infantino tells Iran to let women into World Cup qualifiers

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino had asked Iran to ensure women are allowed to attend 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Now he’s expressing disappointment the country has reneged on its commitments.

In November, Infantino was in Teheran for the Asian Champions League final when Iranian women were allowed to watch Persepolis play Kashima Antlers of Japan. But things have changed since then.

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Infantino wrote this week to Iranian soccer federation president Mehdi Taj to say it’s “all the more disappointing that it was not possible to keep up the positive momentum and to continue with similar progress.”

In a letter seen by The Associated Press, Infantino highlights a June 6 game between Iran and Syria when “the gates were closed to female spectators and when, it would appear, a number of women seeking to attend the match were detained by security forces for a number of hours.”

Infantino says he wants “concrete steps” from the federation by July 15 “to ensure that all Iranian and foreign women who wish to do so will be allowed to buy tickets and to attend the matches” for 2022 World Cup qualifiers which begin in September.

—More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Japan reach Asian Cup final after hammering Iran (video)

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Japan have reached the 2019 Asian Cup final as they cruised past Iran 3-0 in their semifinal Monday at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.

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The Samurai Blue scored three times in the second half to seal the victory, as Southampton’s Maya Yoshida has skippered the Japanese national team throughout the tournament.

Newcastle’s Yoshinori Muto was an unused sub in the semifinal.

Yuya Osako scored twice in 11 minutes to put Japan in the driving seat and Genki Haraguchi’s stoppage time penalty kick sealed the deal.

Japan last won the Asian Cup in 2011, and this is the first final they have reached since then.

They are the most successful team in Asian Cup final history with four titles to their name.

Japan will play either hosts UAE or surprise package Qatar in the final, as the minnows meet in Abu Dhabi in the other semifinal on Wednesday.

The final will take place Friday at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.