TEHRAN, Iran — Iran announced its squad for the 2018 World Cup late Sunday, with two midfield stars making the cut despite being banned last year for playing against an Israeli team.
Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi were among the 35 players announced by Iran’s Football Federation on its website.
Sports officials said last August that Shojaei, 33, and Haji Safi, 28, would be banned for life after appearing for their Greek club Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Iran does not recognize the Jewish state and bars its athletes from appearing against Israelis.
But there was uproar from fans and confusion reigned over the issue, with Shojaei returning to the national squad in March and Haji Safi never actually banned.
Iran is unable to openly discuss the ban on facing Israelis because it breaches international sporting regulations.
There were no surprises in the rest of the squad, but Iranian fans will be pinning their hopes on 24-year-old winger and attacking midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who plays for The Netherlands’ AZ Alkmaar.
This season, Jahanbakhsh became the first Asian player to become top scorer in a major European league, with 21 league goals.
Iran’s national team has been coached the past seven years by Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz, a former one-season manager at Real Madrid and an assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Team Melli faces a tough group in the World Cup, with Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
Iran had a strong run in qualifiers, becoming the first to book their place from the Asian Football Confederation.
Shojaei will be making a record third appearance for Iran at the World Cup.
He has remained vague about the Israel ban, but said in March he was pleased to return as “a soldier” for Team Melli.