Iran striker retires from team at 23 after online insults

Iran's Sardar Azmoun reacts during the group B match between Iran and Portugal at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Russia, Monday, June 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

TEHRAN, Iran — Online bullying has just cost Iran one of its top players.

Forward Sardar Azmoun said Thursday that he's retiring from the national team. The 23-year-old Azmoun was the target of numerous attacks on social media after failing to score in any of Iran's three group matches at the World Cup.

He was sent obscene messages and mocked for his perceived lack of impact.

Azmoun said his mother had been recovering from a serious illness, but the insults caused it to flare up again. Between football and his mother, he wrote on Instagram that "I chose my mother."

The Rubin Kazan striker had been built up as Iran's top goal-scoring threat before the tournament and has scored 23 goals in 36 international appearances.

Another forward, the 30-year-old Reza Ghoochannejhad, said that he's also leaving the Iran team. He was an unused substitute in all three games.

"My mind, my personality and my pride do not allow me" to wear the Iranian national team shirt again, Ghoochannejhad said in his Instagram statement.

Ghoochannejhad didn't say whether he was reacting to the online abuse or to coach Carlos Queiroz's decision not to play him at the World Cup.

Iran missed out on qualifying for the knockout stages by one point. The team beat Morocco 1-0 on an own goal before losing 1-0 to Spain and drawing 1-1 with Portugal.

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More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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