Iran has dropped midfield duo Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei from the national team after they played in a UEFA Europa League game against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv for their Greek club Panionios last week, the Iranian sports ministry said on Thursday.
Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said the two Panionios footballers could no longer wear the national shirt after they played against the club in the Europa League third qualifying round second leg in Greece.
“Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team any more because they crossed the country’s red line,” Davarzani told state television.
“They have a financial contract with a club to be paid and play for that team, but to play with the representative of a loathsome regime… this is not acceptable for Iranian people.”
The two players had refused to play in the away leg in Israel despite facing “pressure” and “financial fines” from their club, the sports ministry said.
But they played in the second leg in Greece on August 4. They did not help Panionios, who lost 0-1 and 0-2 on aggregate, thus being eliminated from the tournament.
Current and former top players, including Ali Karimi and Mehdi Taremi, expressed support for their colleagues, saying they had no choice but to play the game.
But Iran soccer federation vice president Ali Kafashian told the Mizan Online website that they shouldn’t have played “even if their contracts would have been terminated.”
Iran believes any dealing with Israel, including facing its players in sports, means recognizing the Jewish state.