Iran football fans
Iran football fans flooded the streets of St. Petersburg for their national team's tournament opener on June 15.PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia, hosted the Group B opener between Iran and Morocco on Friday, June 16.

All eyes were on the third fixture of the day, a blockbuster clash between Spain and Portugal but travelling fans from representing Iran and Morocco contributed to a festive atmosphere outside the Krestovsky Stadium, after hitting the St. Petersburg streets hours ahead of the match.

Among them were female fans from Iran, who had travelled thousands of miles to support their national football team at the ongoing Fifa World Cup. For some of them, the experience was a first as the Islamic Republic bans female sports fans from attending all-male events.

Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch, had watched Masoud Shojaei-led team in action for the first time from the stands on Friday. Her joy, it seems, knew no bounds.  

"Cheering for my @TeamMelliIran for first time at a stadium and I'm already missing a heartbeat. Go Iran ! All of us,men and women, are cheering for you today! 80 million people, One nation, one heart beat! (sic)" Tara had written on Twitter after posting a photo from he Krestovsky Stadium.

Sports writer finally gets to cover a match from the stands

Samira Shirmardi was also experiencing the stadium experience for the first time, reports The Wire.

Despite being a sports writer in Tehran over 17 years, the Iranian woman had missed what is a prerequisite for most sports journalists across the globe.

Watching football 'as a family' away from home

In another heartwarming tale, a young couple had taken the long journey to watch a football match of the Iranian national team together from the stadium.

"We should come here, 4,127 kilometers to be at the stadium as a family. Why? This is stupid," the man, Amin, who was not willing to be identified by his last name told the Associated Press.

The couple had a banner that read: "4127 km (2,564 miles) to be at the stadium as a family."

This wasn't the only banner protesting the decade-old stadium ban. Several fans, men and women, unruffled banners from inside the stadium during the fiercely-fought contest on Friday.

Iran football fans
Several Iran football fans held up banners protesting for women during a Fifa World Cup match in St. PetersburgPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Iran football fans
Another banner supporting Iranian women football fans at St. Petersburg.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

What is the situation back home?

Ever since a year after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the ban on female fans at stadiums has been in place. Women have, in the past, disguised as men to attend matches in stadiums and have been punished for the same.

A few, in a temporary decision, were allowed to watch a volleyball game in 2015. The episode was an aftermath of public outcry over the detention of a British-Iranian student Ghoncheh Ghavami, who had tried to attend a men's volleyball match.

In March, Fifa president Gianni Infantino was heavily criticised for attending a top-level football match in Iran during which more than 30 women were detained for trying to attend it.

Notably, Fifa had released a statement saying Infantino was assured by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani that the ban would be lifted in the near future, according to CNN

The Iranian skipper had also called on Rouhani to lift the nationwide stadium ban on women after they qualified for Fifa World Cup in 2017.

Nonetheless, the Iran football team gave its fans a lot of joy on Friday as they piped Morocco 1-0 to top the Group B table.

An own from Morocco forward Bouhaddouz in the injury time, sent Iranian fans in the stadium into a tizzy.