Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi on Sunday spoke out about the difficult conditions for his people back home on the eve of his country's opening World Cup match against England, and said he hoped his team could show them respect and be their voice.
More than two months of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the country's morality police, have marked one of the boldest challenges to its clerical leaders since the 1979 revolution.
In the latest show of solidarity by Iranian sportsmen and women amid a deadly crackdown by authorities, Hajsafi, who plays for AEK Athens, said it was undeniable the situation in Iran was not good and he hoped the national team could beat England and bring some happiness to the people.
"We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy," he told a news conference.
"We are here but it does not me we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.
"Whatever we have is from them and we have to fight, we have to perform the best we can and score goals and represent the people... I hope conditions change as to expectations of the people."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Saturday said Iran's "enemies" had so far failed to bring down the government but they had new tricks every day and may try to mobilize workers, as protests raged on at universities and in some cities.
Team Melli, as the national team is known, has been in the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup, with anticipation over whether the players will use soccer's showpiece event as a platform to show solidarity with the protest movement.
The wave of unrest erupted in September after Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died while in detention of the morality police, after she was arrested for wearing clothes deemed "inappropriate".
Iran's government says foreign enemies and their agents are stoking the crisis.
According to the activist HRANA news agency, 402 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Friday, including 58 minors.
HRANA said 54 members of the security forces were also killed and more than 16,800 people have been arrested.