Iran Drops Players from National Team for Playing Against Israeli Club

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Iran believes any dealing with Israel, including facing its players in sports, means recognising the Jewish state and betraying the Palestinian cause.

Midfielders Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei have been axed from the Iranian national team after playing for their Greek club side against Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv.

"Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes", it said on its IsraelPersian twitter account.

As a result, and following a a promise to "thoroughly examine the full extent of the matter", Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said they will never wear the national shirt again, telling state television: "Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran's national football team any more because they crossed the country's red line".

The comments set off vigorous discussion on social media in Iran, where soccer is the most popular sport.

Iran could run into trouble with Federation Internationale de Football Association, soccer's world governing body, over the incident.

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But Iranian Football Federation officials said they should not have played "even if their contracts with the Greek team would have been terminated".

"This is ridiculous, there is no law against playing against Israelis, it's a decision for every athlete to make him or herself", said Moeen Farrokhi, 28, a supporter of Iran's national team.

But both played the full 90 minutes in the August 4 match in Greece, which their team lost, 1-0.

Prior to his lifetime ban, Shojaei was the captain of the Iran national team and had made 71 appearances, scoring eight goals. Its soccer ambitions have been hampered by official mismanagement and global economic sanctions. It's not a big deal.

Shojaei - who has earned 70 global caps - was instrumental in helping Iran secure a spot at the 2018 World Cup. "It would be better to think of the infrastructure of Iranian football rather than pay attention to minor, unimportant issues which are politics and have nothing to do with sport".

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