Iran fans are the real winners as women get glimpse of the future
Bad luck proved to be Iran's downfall on the pitch on Wednesday, as a fortuitous Diego Costa goal saw them succumb 1-0 to Spain, but it was an historic day for them nonetheless as their fans emerged as the real victors.
In the 36 hours before kick-off in Kazan, Tatarstan's capital city had been taken over by 15,000 Iranian supporters.
It was impossible to escape the incessant blasts of their airhorns throughout the city, those very same horns which later made it feel as though the vuvuzelas of the 2010 World Cup had made an unlikely comeback during the match.
Whether you were attempting to sleep in your hotel room or hoping for a peaceful wander around Kazan's spectacular Kremlin, there was no escaping the noise of the Iran supporters.
Seems to be a far greater #IRN presence than #ESP in Kazan today. A bunch of them were visiting the city’s remarkable Kremlin a little earlier, making a fair amount of noise. #WorldCup @OmnisportNews pic.twitter.com/2c7ZAaxtFd— Ryan Benson (@RyanRyanBenson) June 20, 2018
But there was so much more to their presence than the incredible, deafening racket they had concocted all day and all night. Forget their street dancing, their infectious songs and the smiles which could span the width of the Volga.
Easily the most striking element of Iran's immense support – not only in Kazan, but in Russia in general – has been the sheer number of women in attendance.
A bizarre thing to dwell for the vast majority of us, but in Iran it has been a key subject of debate, for women have been unable to attend stadiums for nearly four decades.
Having originally been implemented in 1980 following the Islamic revolution a year earlier, the ban on men and women sharing a stadium at the same time has sparked numerous protests and demonstrations, particularly coming to a head earlier this year when a female group disguised themselves before being rounded up by security.
The number of Iranian women in Kazan was first noticeable at the FIFA Fan Fest on Tuesday during Russia's 3-1 win over Egypt, flags draped across their backs just as proudly as their brothers.
One female supporter told Omnisport: "I've never been to a stadium before and I really want everyone to feel the excitement, because it's a totally different feeling.
"I feel really bad for them [those at home who cannot attend the stadium] and it's for no reason. They can watch it [the football] on TV, which shows there's nothing wrong with it."
Another Iranian said: "It's very sad women can't watch soccer in Iran. There are so many here to cheer on the Iran team.
"I hope in the future Iranian women will be able to watch football games in their own country."
Little did they know that, about 24 hours later, their sisters back at home would watch football alongside men inside a stadium.
An event was planned at short notice for supporters to go to the Azadi in Tehran and watch the match with Spain on big screens and, although it was briefly cancelled due to "infrastructure difficulties", security eventually led them in.
After just under 38 years, women were finally allowed into the Azadi and they supported their team, each cheer, sigh and gasp relieving some of the weight of almost four decades of oppression.
Understandably the attentions of the world have been on Russia and how they cope with – and host – the World Cup.
But after taking this first step, it is arguably the Iran fans who will make the most lasting impression at Russia 2018.