SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – It was a simple gesture – green tape wrapped around a wrist – but its symbolism resonated half a world away.

Several players on Iran’s national soccer team wore the green tape on their wrists during a World Cup qualifying match against South Korea on Wednesday, an apparent sign of solidarity with opposition leader Mir Hossain Mousavi.

Protesters at home who accuse the government of rigging Iran’s June 12 election in favor of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been wearing green – the color of Mousavi’s campaign – in a show of support for the opposition candidate.

The match was televised across Iran, so the move by the players was certain to be noticed back home by the many soccer fans watching on state TV.

Mousavi’s Web site said seven Iranian players wore the bands in the first half, although most were forced to take them off before the second.

Among those wearing the green tape was team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia – one of Iran’s biggest sports heroes for a goal he scored to eliminate the United States during the first round of the World Cup in 1998.

Mahdavikia’s goal in Lyon, France, was the difference in the 2-1 victory – Iran’s first ever in the World Cup. The win set off wild celebrations in Tehran, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, hailed the team in a message that said: “Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands.”

One player, Ali Karimi, had green tape wrapped around both wrists during Wednesday’s game.

The green bands are not a regular part of their uniforms. In the second half, Mahdavikia kept a light green band on his arm – although he would wear a colored armband to designate him as team captain.

Fans from Iran also showed their support for the demonstrations at home by staging a protest outside the stadium.

They unfurled a banner that read “Go to Hell Dictator,” and chanted “Compatriots, we will be with you to the end with the same heart.”

During the match, protesters waved the banner, held up green paper signs reading “Where is my vote?” and waved Iran’s national flags emblazoned with the plea “Free Iran.”

Iran was later eliminated from World Cup qualifying because of a draw between Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

AP-ES-06-17-09 1816EDT

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