Watch: Iranian women attend first football match in 40 years

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By Lindsey Johnstone  with Reuters, AP and EBU
Four thousand women's tickets were allocated for the World Cup qualifier
Four thousand women's tickets were allocated for the World Cup qualifier   -  Copyright  AP

Thousands of Iranian women watched their first football match from inside a stadium in almost 40 years on Thursday.

Women had been banned from stadiums when men's teams are playing since 1981, after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But 4,000 women's tickets were allocated for the 2022 World Cup qualifier between Iran and Cambodia, after a decades-long campaign by Iranian women and more recent pressure from international football governing body FIFA. Hardliners in Iran's Shiite theocracy are still opposed to the move.

Tehran's Azadi ("Freedom") Stadium seats 78,000 but was almost empty aside from the women, who were separated from male spectators and guarded by female police officers. This decision has been criticised by some campaigners, who say women should be able to attend matches with their male family members.

Footage posted on social media showed women arriving at the stadium more than two hours before the scheduled kick-off time.

Women shared posts from inside the stadium on social networks including Twitter and Instagram. Some social media sites are technically blocked in Iran but they are not legally banned, and are extremely popular throughout the country across all age groups.

Iranian state television, controlled by the Islamic Republic, aired footage of women cheering and commentators even acknowledged their presence.

Last month an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a stadium to watch a match died after setting herself on fire, upon learning she learned she could spend six months in prison.

The death of Sahar Khodayari, dubbed "Blue Girl" for the colours of her favourite team Esteghlal, caused widespread outrage in Iran and internationally, prompting calls on social media for Iran's football federation to be suspended or banned by FIFA.

Read more: Woman dies after setting herself ablaze over Iran stadium jail fears

After her death, FIFA president Gianni Infantino told Iran he expected to see "positive developments" on the issue, starting with yesterday's Cambodia game.

Spectator Zahra Pashaei, a 29-year-old nurse, said: "We are very excited that finally we have the opportunity to go to the stadium. This is an amazing feeling, for me at least 22 to 23 years of longing and regret lies behind this.

"Maybe it would have been better if [FIFA] had done this much earlier. Also the blue girl and her stories did help. Of course efforts by women and feminists were very effective. We are happy anyway, and hope this will continue, not just in national team matches."

Fellow fan Atefeh Rahimi, 23, said: "We should be thankful that they finally allowed us into the stadium, we should thank FIFA."

Social media users are calling the women Iran's good luck charm, as the national team beat Cambodia 14-0.

Video editor • Nicolas Coquet