Iran’s national team football coach, Carlos Queiroz made his player selection for the 2 upcoming matches against S. Korea and Syria, and as was expected Masoud Shojaei was not invited. Shojaei and Haj Safi who play for the Greek club Panionios did not travel with the team to Tel Aviv earlier this month to face Maccabi in the preliminary rounds of the UEFA Cup. However, they played the return match against Maccabi in Athens. Afterwards, there was strong reaction from the IR Regime’s mouthpieces and Basiji outfits to ban the players for life.
It should be noted that FIFA and the associated Confederations have taken a relatively lenient posture towards countries that do not have diplomatic relations with each other and FIFA does not punish teams and players who refuse to travel to certain countries. For example, this week in the European Champions League draw, the announcer stated that the positioning of the teams will be such that the Russian and the Ukrainian clubs will not end up in the same group. A similar situation exists between Armenian and Azerbaijani teams. Also, Iran and Saudi teams have been playing their matches against each other in the 3rd countries.
Last week, Haj Safi on his Instagram page wrote a brief and lukewarm message in support of the country and the revolution and that seemed to resolve the issue for him. There was no mention of Israel, Palestine, politics, etc. Shojaei however, did not issue any statements. It should be noted that Shojaei over the years has demonstrated support for the Green Movement by wearing a green wristband to the Iran vs S. Korea match in June 2009, and speaking against the corruption in Iranian football and in support of allowing women into the stadiums.
Now, the decision to not invite Shojaei rests solely with the coach and it’s most likely driven by the calculation that Shojaei who will be 34 next June is basically done with international football while Haj Safi at the age of 27 is at the prime of his career and has many good years left. Queiroz is also very loyal to his players and if he feels that the situation is right, he will invite Shojaei again.
Iran will play S. Korea in Seoul on Thursday and Haj Safi will most likely start. They will then return to Tehran for their last World Cup qualifier against Syria. I am sure that the Iranian crowd will support both players by chanting their names. Shojaei and Haj Safi needed to make very personal decisions and they did it to the best of their convictions and abilities. They are no different than many other Iranians in Iran who are faced with difficult situations and decisions almost every day.
Let’s not write prescriptions for Shojaei and Haj Safi from the safety of our homes in the west.