Millions of Iranians are going to the polls this Friday to elect a new president. This is a critical moment for Iran, which is increasingly isolated from the West, dealing with rising unemployment and several international sanctions.
For the last eight years, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been the country's president, but as his two term limit comes to an end, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on all Iranians to vote in the election.
The six remaining candidates ended their campaigns on Thursday and last minute polls showed it was still a tight race.

The key issue at the moment is the economy … it does seem there is a lot of interest [in voting], and polls that have been carried out show consistently that above 70 percent will be voting … So I think the turnout will be high, and ... it will be an interesting election.

Mohammad Marandi, he is professor at the University of Tehran.

In the last election in 2009, results triggered mass protests and thousands of people demonstrated against the re-election of President Ahmadinejad. They soon became known as the green movement.

However, the protests did not stop there. Days after the election, the Iranian national football team played a World Cup qualifier against South Korea, and six members of the team - including the captain - wore green wrist bands in a display of solidarity with the protesters.  

In the country, football has always been a popular sport, but it has always had a political edge, and if the past is anything to go by, football victories and losses can set off protests on the streets.

In 1997, a World Cup qualifier victory against Australia saw public celebration turn into protest. Police were unable to stop some 5,000 women from storming Tehran's Azadi stadium - from which they were officially banned.
Four years later, rumours of match-fixing brought protesters onto the streets once again after Iran failed to qualify against Bahrain.

Iranian politicians understand the importance of football, and some have used the sport to help their campaigns. Iran's feared Revolutionary Guard has had a growing influence in managing some of the country's top clubs, and with Friday's election coinciding with yet another World Cup qualifier later in the week, Iranians may be wondering if football could once again become a reason for more protests.

So, what do Iranians expect from their presidential candidates? And how will this vote impact on their lives? 

To discuss this, Inside Story with presenter Veronica Pedrosa, is joined by guests: Mohammad Marandi, a political commentator and a professor at the University of Tehran; Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist and author of The Ayatollah begs to differ: The paradox of Modern Iran; and James Dorsey, a veteran journalist and author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

"Politics ... and soccer … are very closely associated.  There is a pattern over the last 20 years … in which World Cup qualifiers, and advances within the World Cup towards the finals, have coincided or produced celebrations that ultimately turned out into political protests. That possibility is [there] again, now you have this week an important qualifier that Iran plays against Lebanon."

- James Dorsey, veteran journalist and author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

Source: Al Jazeera