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Iranian soccer player faces backlash after posing with Israeli counterpart

A chance meeting between Israeli and Iranian soccer players which culminated in a photo and social media post that has since gone viral, is causing a commotion across the web. Israeli international midfielder Maor Buzaglo, 30, who plays for the Maccabi Haifa team was in London where he was receiving treatment for an injured knee when he met his Iranian counterpart and captain of the national soccer team, Ashkan Dejagah, 31. The two posed for a photo which Buzaglo then posted to his social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with a caption in Hebrew that read, “Soccer has different rules and one language without prejudice & no wars. The team captain of Iran and myself prove that there is an alternative way.” Buzaglo also posted emojis featuring a peace sign and both countries’ respective flags. Dejagah, also a midfielder, currently plays soccer in the U.K. with the English Football League (EFL) championship team, Nottingham Forest. Though born in Iran, he moved with his family to Germany when he was a year old and featured for Germany’s under-21 team. Coincidentally, in 2007, Dejagah refused to travel with the national squad to play a friendly match in Israel, a decision that angered German Jewish groups. He later defended his decision telling a German newspaper he feared for the welfare of his relatives in Iran. The German football association accepted his apology. On Buzaglo’s Instagram feed, Dejagah posted “Wish you a quick recovery too my friend.” Though many comments reflected disdain for their meeting, there are also many positive comments lauding the courage of Dejagah to post with Buzaglo, which is bound to have repercussions with Iranian authorities. Historically, Iranian sports players have pulled out of games against Israeli opponents, forfeiting advancement in competition for fear of punishment by Iranian authorities. Last year, Iran dropped two players from its national team after they played for their Greek club team, Panionios, against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in a pan-European tournament. They were later reinstated on the team but only after international outcry, including a summons from the soccer world governing body, FIFA. Last month, an Israeli Judoka won a bronze medal in a Grand Slam competition in Germany after his Iranian counterpart pulled out when he was paired against an Israeli opponent. Tohar Butbul was scheduled to meet the winner of the match between American Nick Delpopolo and Iranian Mohammad Mahdi Brimanloo. But when Delpopolo pulled out with an injury and Brimanloo advanced to the next round, he arrived overweight for the weigh-in, thus disqualifying himself. Iran cut all ties with Israel following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and commonly refers to Israel as the ‘Little Satan,’ a disparaging term coined by Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the Iranian Revolution.
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