73 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

Iran’s Safi is recalled after apologising for playing against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv

By Andrew Warshaw 

August 30 – Fresh information has emerged over why Iranian authorities decided to ban only one of the two European-based players the government said would never be picked for the national team again as punishment for playing against an Israeli club.

Captain Masoud Shojaei and Iranian team mate Ehsan Haji Safi (pictured) both fell foul of the Iranian authorities earlier this month when they played for Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Europa League qualifier, prompting Iran’s deputy sports minister to declare they had no place in Iran’s national football team for “crossing Iran’s red line.”

Despite intervention by FIFA, Shojaei, hugely popular among Iranian fans inside and outside the country, was duly left out of Iran’s final World Cup qualifiers against South Korea and Syria but in an apparent u-turn Haji Safi has been named in the squad.

Iran does not recognise Israel and supports groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas that call for the Jewish state’s destruction but the move to throw out two of the country’s most popular players caused outrage on social media from Iranian fans inside and outside the country.

Insideworldfootball has now learned that the move to re-instate Haji Safi may have been as a direct result of him making what some might interpret as a grovelling apology on social media for playing against Maccabi.

A translation of his comments referred to his “deepest regrets and sincere apologies as the people of our country were rightly angered and correctly judged that the incident [his participation in the match against the Israelis] should not have happened.”

Shojaei, on the other hand, appears to have refused to bow to similar pressure to release an equally strong statement, merely stating his firm allegiance to his country.

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