Ehsan Haji Safi, FIFA World Cup, Iran, Israel, Leagues, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Masoud Shojaei, Panionios, Story, UEFA Europa League

Serdar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi scored in each half to punch Iran’s ticket to the 2018 World Cup.

Iran has barred two players from national team duty for life after they faced an Israeli club in the Europa League, a government official said on Thursday.

Iran captain Masoud Shojaei and midfielder Ehsan Haji Safi each played 90 minutes in Greek club Panionios’ home leg of the third-round qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv last week, after sitting out the first leg in Israel.

That violated Iran’s longstanding prohibition on athletes facing opponents from Israel, a nation that is not recognized by Iran’s government.

Iran’s football federation “strongly condemned” the players last week, saying it is reviewing the case and would make a final decision after speaking with both players. 

But Iran’s Parliament have since denounced the players as well, and The New York Times on Thursday quoted Iran’s deputy sports minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani as telling state television: “It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line.”

Iran’s national team could face sanctions from FIFA, which forbids political interference in international football.

Iran already qualified for the 2018 World Cup, becoming the first Asian team to do so, in June. Shojaei played 70 minutes in the clinching win over Uzbekistan, while Haji Safi was on the bench.

Maccabi won the Europa League match 1-0 and advanced to the final playoff round. After the game, Israel’s foreign ministry praised the players on its Farsi-language Twitter account for ignoring Iran’s rule by playing against the Israelis.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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