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Iran May Ban Two Soccer Players For Playing Against Israeli Team

Panionios's Ehsan Hajsafi (left) vies for the ball with Tel Aviv's Eyal Golasa during a UEFA Europa League qualifying match on August 3.

Two Iranian soccer players could be banned from Iran's national team after playing for their professional Greek squads against an Israeli club in the Europa League qualifying tournament, Iranian media report.

The semiofficial Fars News Agency on August 4 reported that Iran’s soccer federation “strongly condemns" Masud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi for participating on the Panionios team in a match in Greece against Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv on August 3.

The Mizan news agency quoted Mohammad Javad Ababaf, general director of the Sport Ministry, as saying there was a "big possibility" the two players would be banned.

Iran does not recognize Israel, and the countries are bitter regional rivals. Thousands of Iranians regularly participate in state-sponsored anti-Israeli rallies throughout the country.

Iranian athletes generally do not play against Israeli teams, and the government in Tehran traditionally rewards their refusal to do so.

Both Shojaei and Ababaf refused to participate in a previous match that Panionios played against Maccabi in Tel Aviv.

Maccabi Tel Aviv won both matches, eliminating Panionios from Europa League play for the season.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and the BBC