Iran's Sardar Azmoun forced to retire from international football after World Cup exit

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Iran were never expected to go far at the 2018 World Cup but they certainly weren't helped by the draw for the group stages.

Spain, Portugal and Morocco joined them in Group B, giving the 37th ranked international side very little hope of progressing into the last 16.

And even though that's exactly how things panned out, it has to be said that Iran did themselves proud in Russia.

They beat Morocco in their opening game, narrowly lost 1-0 to Spain in the second and then drew 1-1 to European champions Portugal.

Four points wasn't enough to finish in the top two - those spaces were occupied by Spain and Portugal - but Iran's players did extremely well nonetheless.

What's happened since their elimination is just sad, though. Iran have received a lot of abuse for not reaching the last 16 and that has resulted in one of the players retiring from international football.

Rubin Kazan's Sardar Azmoun, aged just 23, has announced on Instagram that he is stepping down from the Iran national team following the World Cup.

PREMATURE RETIREMENT

According to the forward, the scrutiny he and his teammates have come under has made his mother ill and he's been forced to choose her over playing international football.

"It was a great honour for me to play in my national team and I am proud of myself till the end of my life," he wrote on Instagram.

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"Unfortunately, with all the interest I have, and contrary to the will of my heart, I decided to say goodbye to the national team of my country.

"There are some things in life that will speak first to you. My mother had overcome a serious illness and I was happy.

"But unfortunately because of the unkindness of some people - and the insults that me and my teammates in no way deserved - her illness has become severe.

"This has put me in a difficult position where I must pick one or the other, and as a result I pick my mother."

Heartbreaking. No professional footballer should have to quit international football because of abuse, but Azmoun's situation is far more concerning.

His mother overcame illness once before and hopefully she can do so once again.

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