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Iran bans two footballers who played match against Israeli team

Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will no longer be eligible for the national team, says Iranian Sports Ministry

    Masoud Shojaei
    Masoud Shojaei

    Iran has banned two players from its national football team after they appeared in a match against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

    The two midfielders, Masoud Shojaei, 33, the captain of the national team, and Ehsan Haji Safi, 27, play for the Greek club Panionios, which last week lost to Israel in a Europa League qualifying round in Greece.

    The Iranian government does not recognise the state of Israel and Iranian athletes are forbidden from competing against Israelis. “Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team anymore because they crossed the country’s red line,” Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said on Iranian state television.

    Although Davarzani acknowledged that players had declined to travel with their team to play an away game in Israel despite receiving “pressure” and the threat of fines from their club, he said the match in Athens was “not acceptable to the Iranian people.

     “Agreeing to play in a game against athletes of a regime that has given humanity nothing other than occupation, murder, aggression and betrayal is disrespectful of the rights of thousands of martyrs and those displaced and affected by the occupying Zionist regime,” Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy committee, told the Mehr news agency.

    But Israel’s Foreign Ministry backed the two footballers. “Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes,” it wrote on its Farsi language Twitter account.

    “The Iranian community supports Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi for playing vs Maccabi Tel Aviv. Sport has no place in politics,” read a tweet from football forum PersianFootball.com.

    The Iranian football team, managed by the former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, has already qualified for next year’s World Cup in Russia. The loss of Shojaei and Haji Safi, one of Iran’s most promising players, is likely to be keenly felt during the tournament.

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