Iran bans two players for life after playing against Israel

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"These two are good players", said Peyman Rahbar, a well-known sportswriter for the Varzesh3 website in Iran.

Iran captain Masoud Shojaei and midfielder Ehsan Haji Safi actively played for their Europa League team, Greece's Panionios, when it faced Maccabi Tel Aviv last week.

Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and has long prohibited its athletes from competing against Israeli athletes in any contest or tournament.

"Shojaei (r) and Haji Safi (l) have no place in Iran's national football team any more because they crossed the country's red line", Davarzani told state television.

The move prompted thousands of speakers of Persian, including Iranians living in the Islamic Republic or beyond, to call on the FIFA soccer federation to impose sanctions on Iran for the move, according to Omid Memarian, A New York-based journalist.

For many years, Iranian athletes on the worldwide stage have hewed to an unwritten rule that they not play against Israelis, with many feigning illness or using other ruses to avoid head-to-head competitions. The country has already qualified for next year's World Cup but the loss of two of its most experienced players is bound to reduce chances of success in Russian Federation. Its soccer ambitions have been hampered by official mismanagement and worldwide economic sanctions.

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"What is the fuss?"

This is the fifth qualification to the global finals for Iran, having previously appeared at football's showpiece event in 1978, 1998, 2006 and 2014.

Iranian hard-liners have been asserting themselves in recent months following the re-election victory of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate.

Shojaei - who has earned 70 global caps - was instrumental in helping Iran secure a spot at the 2018 World Cup. Safi did not play in the match.

Their absences will come at a bad time for Iran. "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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