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Two Iranian Players Retire From International Soccer After Online Insults

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 Iran's Sardar Azmoun reacts REUTERS/Lee Smith

Two top Iranian players have said they are retiring from international soccer after being targeted online by angry fans following Iran's failure to qualify for the knockout stage of the World Cup in Russia.

Striker Sardar Azmun said he made the decision because online criticism of his performance had harmed his mother's health.

Azmun, 23, had been Iran's top scorer, with 11 goals in qualification for the finals of the World Cup. But he faced a hail of criticism on social media after failing to score in any of Iran's three Group B games in Russia.

Azmun said the "insults" had led to the further deterioration of his mother's fragile health, and he had decided to retire from the national squad to protect her.

Between football and his mother, he wrote on Instagram, "I chose my mother."

A second player, 30-year-old Reza Ghoochannejhad, says he's also leaving the national team, after being a substitute in all three games.

Iran was sent home after it gathered just three points out of three games, after winning against Morocco and losing Spain 0-1, and drawing 1-1 with Portugal.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP