Exclusive: Bayer Leverkusen star Sardar Azmoun explains why he quit Iran national team in 2018 over insults

Speaking as part of a new Warner Bros. Discovery series, World at their Feet, Sardar Azmoun has revealed that he retired from international football in 2018 due to social media abuse after Iran’s struggles at the World Cup.

Azmoun scored 11 goals in the 14 qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup but failed to score at the showpiece event in Russia as the Iranian national team made an early exit from the tournament after a win over Morocco, a narrow defeat against Spain and a draw against Portugal.

“Qualifying for the World Cup was the reward for our efforts at that time,” Azmoun said.


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“We were all happy and our only goal was to please the people.

“We were not at the level of Spain or Portugal, we won against Morocco but they were much better than us,” recalled Azmoun, who has been with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen since the beginning of 2022.

In the wake of that national disappointment, the then 23-year-old became the target of abuse on social media.

“People didn’t show us any appreciation. That had a big impact on me. The unkindness also affected my family,” he added.

“Many thought at the time that I had withdrawn for emotional reasons. But the truth is, I did it because of my family.”

The player, who played for Rubin Kazan at the time, listed his mother’s poor health as a result of the reason for his retirement.

“My mother overcame a serious illness, which I was happy about. But unfortunately, her illness became more serious because of the unkindness of some people, and the insults against me and my team-mates, which were not deserved in this way.

“I had to choose, and I chose my mother,” were his words at the end of June 2018.

He has now returned to the international fold, scoring seven goals in eight matches as Iran qualified for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

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