Anshel Pfeffer
Assaf Uni (Berlin)

BERLIN - An Iranian-born player in Germany's under-21 national soccer team has withdrawn from an upcoming match against Israel, citing "personal reasons," the German Football Association (DFB) said yesterday. But the tabloid daily Bild quoted him as saying his motive was political.

Ashkan Dejagah, 21, who plays for Bundesliga club VfB Wolfsburg, asked national team managers to allow him to withdraw from Germany's European Championship qualifier against Israel, to be played in Tel Aviv on Friday. "He came to us citing personal reasons that seemed very plausible," DFB spokesman Jens Grittner said.

But Dejagah, who is considered one of his club's star players, told Bild that his decision to withdraw "has political reasons. Everyone knows that I am German-Iranian."

He was born in Tehran, but later moved with his parents to Germany and holds a German passport.

In a subsequent interview yesterday with the tabloid B.Z., Dejagah insisted: "I have nothing against Israel, but I fear I would have trouble entering Iran later."

Dejagah's father has been quoted as saying that his son had not yet decided whether to play for Iran or Germany when he leaves the under-21s. Dejagah's elder brother plays for Iran.

The player also attributed his decision to respect for his parents. "They are both Iranian, and the blood that flows in my veins is more Iranian than German," he said.

His withdrawal stirred controversy in Germany.

Bild, Germany's best-selling paper, called for his exclusion from the national team. So did Friedbert Pflueger, a prominent member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party.

"This is intolerable," Pflueger said. "Soon, each person will decide who he wants to play against and who he doesn't want to play against. If a player has political objections, he can no longer play with the team."

Germany's Central Council of Jews also was outraged. "It is unacceptable and untenable for one player to initiate a private boycott of Jews," council vice president Dieter Graumann told Spiegel Online. "It would be scandalous if the DFB fails to punish this behavior."

In 2004, Iranian striker Vahid Hashemian was pulled from Bayern Munich's roster for a Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Although Bayern cited a back injury as the reason for Hashemian's withdrawal, Iran's national sporting body had opposed the planned visit.