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World Cup 2018: Who is Iran’s Kurdish goalkeeper?

This article originally appeared in Rudaw.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Alireza Beiranvand has played in goal for the Iranian national team in both of the side’s World Cup 2018 matches – first beating Morocco 1-0 last week, then letting one past to Spain on Wednesday. But who is he?

Beiranvand, 26, is a Kurdish Lak from the Lorestan Province of Iran. He was born in Sarabias to a nomadic family. Before his footballing career took off, he was a humble shepherd in the Zagros Mountains.

From an early age Beiranvand enjoyed kicking around a football, and also a local game called Dal Paran, which involves throwing stones long distances.

The game no doubt honed his ability to throw a ball astonishingly far and with great precision. On November 21, 2014, while playing for Naft Tehran FC, Beiranvand threw the ball 70 yards down the pitch, allowing his side’s strikers to score the winning goal.

Beiranvand started his professional football career with Naft in 2011 before moving to Persepolis FC, one of Iran’s most popular teams, in 2016.

Before scoring a contract as a paid goalkeeper, Beiranvand worked at a dressmaking factory, a carwash, and as a street cleaner.

His family never wanted him to play football, arguing sport was not real work.

“My father didn’t like football at all and he asked me to work. He even tore my clothes and gloves and I played with bare hands several times,” Beiranvand told the Guardian on June 1.

He has never shied away from sharing his Kurdish identity in television interviews, and there are even videos of him joining in traditional Kurdish dance.

Beiranvand has already represented Iran at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. With one win and one defeat, Iran’s World Cup dreams hinge on its players’ performance against Portugal on Monday. Can the shepherd from Sarabias keep the team in play?

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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