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Iran striker retires at 23 over World Cup criticism

Iran striker Sardar Azmoun, seen here being consoled after the team narrowly missed out on making the World Cup’s last 16 at Portugal’s expense, has announced he is retiring from international football because of the toll on his mother’s health © AFP / Mladen ANTONOV

TEHRAN, Iran, Jun 29Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun has announced his retirement from international football aged just 23, saying criticism from fans of his performance at the World Cup had harmed his mother’s health.

Azmoun, a rising star, who with 11 goals had been Iran’s top scorer in qualification for the finals in Russia, drew brickbats from fans after he failed to deliver in last week’s Group B game against Spain.

Expectations had been raised by Iran’s opening victory over Morocco, which sparked exuberant celebrations in the streets of Tehran.

Defeat in the following game, even at the hands of one of the tournament favourites, drew an avalanche of calls on social media for Azmoun to be benched for the final group game against Portugal.

The striker said the “insults” had caused his mother’s fragile health to deteriorate and he had decided to retire from the national squad to spare her the upset.

“I had to make a choice and I chose my mother,” he wrote on Instagram. “It was the most painful decision of my life.”

The loss of Azmoun is a blow to Iran, who had given a good account of themselves in Russia, almost snatching a last-gasp victory against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal that would have seen them progress to the last 16 for the first time.

Several Iranian sports writers expressed hope on Friday that the young striker, who plays his club football in Russia for Rubin Kazan, could yet go back on an emotional decision taken in the heat of the moment.

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