Iran suspends soccer ties with Greece after friendly nixed

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's soccer federation has suspended all relations with its Greek counterpart after a friendly between the two nations scheduled in Istanbul was abruptly canceled amid ongoing Greece-Turkey tensions.

A statement on the federation's website, first reported by the official IRNA news agency and other media outlets late on Thursday, said the cancellation has inflicted "serious damage" to the Iranian national team's preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The statement said Iran will take "legal action" through world soccer governing body FIFA to force Greece to financially compensate the Iranian players and sport over the cancellation.

"Until further FIFA action following this report, the Iranian Football Association ... will suspend its relations with the Greek Football Federation," the Iranian federation said, adding that it "appreciates all the support, professionalism and commitment" of the Turkish federation.

It also expressed deep regret for what the Iranian statement described as "lack of respect, morality and responsibility" on the part of the Greece federation in the course of recent events.

The friendly was scheduled for Saturday in Istanbul. According to reports, after Greece pulled out, the Kosovo team was to take its place but that substitute friendly also got cancelled.

The friendlies were supposed to be in preparation for the World Cup. Iran played a warm-up match with Turkey in Istanbul last week.

There was no immediate reaction to the Iranian decision from the Greek Football Federation, which is separately facing the threat of international suspension over match-related violence and delays in administrative reforms demanded by FIFA.

Greek organizers had reportedly sought an alternative venue to Istanbul for the friendly due to an ongoing high-profile dispute between Greece and neighboring Turkey over the arrest of two Greek soldiers on a border patrol.

The soldiers have been detained in Turkey for three months but have not been formerly charged.

Greek and Iranian officials were reportedly unable to reach agreement on the terms of a venue change, after Athens and the northeast Greek city of Xanthi were proposed as possible alternatives.

Greece failed to qualify for the finals in Russia, despite having played in the two previous World Cups.

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Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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