TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran striker Sardar Azmoun has announced his retirement from international football aged just 23, saying criticism from fans over his performances at the World Cup had harmed his mother's health.
Rising star Azmoun, who with 11 goals had been Iran's top scorer in qualification for the Finals in Russia, drew brickbats from fans after he failed to deliver in last week's Group B game against Spain.
Expectations had been raised by Iran's opening 1-0 victory over Morocco, which sparked exuberant celebrations in the streets of the Iranian capital.
Defeat in the following game, even at the hands of one of the tournament favourites, drew an avalanche of calls on social media for Azmoun to be benched for the final group game against Portugal.
The Rubin Kazan forward said the "insults" had caused his mother's fragile health to deteriorate and he had decided to retire from the national squad to spare her the upset.
"I had to make a choice and I chose my mother," he wrote on Instagram. "It was the most painful decision of my life."
The loss of Azmoun is a blow to Iran, who had given a good account of themselves in Russia, almost snatching a last-gasp victory against Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal that would have seen them progress to the last 16 for the first time.
Several Iranian sports writers expressed hope on Friday (June 29) that he could yet go back on an emotional decision taken in the heat of the moment.