Iran has has issued a life ban from the national team to two footballers after they played against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv for their Greek club side.
The two midfielders, Masoud Shojaei, 33, the captain of the national team, and Ehsan Hajisafi, 27, one of the stars of the national team, appeared for their Greek team Panionios in the Europa League third qualifying round second leg last week.
“It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajisafi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line,” Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran’s deputy sports minister, said in an address on national 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 Iranian government does not recognise the state of Israel – and Iranian athletes are forbidden from competing against Israelis.
Both Shojaei and Hajisafi 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 turned out for the home leg on August 4. Panionios lost the game 0-1 and the tie 0-2 on aggregate.
Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy committee, told the semi-official Mehr news agency: “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.”
The Israeli foreign ministry tweeted: “Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajisafi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes.”
The Iranian football team, managed by former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz, has qualified for next year’s world cup in Russia.
The loss of the midfield duo is expected to harm their chances at the tournament.
When they signed for Panionios in July, Hajisafi had 84 caps and six goals, while Shojaei had 71 caps and eight goals.
The two players were supported by football fans on social media: