In a tragic sequence of events, Iranian footballer Sardar Azmoun has stunningly announced his international retirement after Iran failed to qualify for the knockout stage in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Aged just 23, the prolific striker has been widely hailed as the 'Iranian Messi' due to his goalscoring prowess. Azmoun, who currently plays for Russian club, FC Rubin Kazan, has represented Iran since 2014 and has scored 23 goals in just 36 games for the West Asian country.
Despite having scored 23 goals in 33 games (and 11 goals in 14 games in the qualifying stage) before the start of the competition, Azmoun failed to score a single goal at the World Cup as Iran finished 3rd in Group B - behind Portugal and Spain, after they drew against the former and lost against the latter.
As a result, the 23-year-old reportedly found himself on the receiving end of nasty insults from his own countrymen. The striker has claimed that these insults have gravely affected his mother's health, due to which he has had to hang up his boots for his national side.
Describing his decision as "painful", Azmoun said:
"My mother had overcome a serious illness and I was happy. Unfortunately, because of the unkindness of some people, and the insults that me and my team-mates 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."
Notably, the prodigal striker is already 5th on Iran's list of top goalscorers and was touted to be a legend in the making, often drawing comparisons to not just Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, but also Iran's national hero Ali Daei, who scored a staggering total of 109 goals in just 149 appearances.
This will certainly represent a tragic loss to Iran's football setup as Azmoun, who debuted for the national side at the tender age of 19, was seemingly destined to become one of Iran's greatest footballers of all time.