Tehran, Iran: The Iranian Football Federation has excluded captain Masoud Shojaei for World Cup qualifiers against South Korea and Syria, but deny it is punishment for playing against an Israeli club.
Shojaei and his compatriot Ehsan Haji Safi came in for criticism in Iran when they turned out for their Greek side Panionios in an August 3 home Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Sunday's squad, announced by already qualified Iran's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz on Facebook, included Ehsan Haji Safi, but omitted Shojaei.
The initial reaction from Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani suggested the pair would both be banned for violating the country's "red line".
They broke a tradition of the taboo of appearing against Israeli athletes, which Iran interprets as recognition of the Jewish state.
But Iran appeared to row back on a ban after a huge outcry from fans on social media and the launch of an investigation by FIFA, which has strict rules against political interference in national teams.