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AfD - Germany's Ozil, Gundogan should be dropped from World Cup squad over Erdogan photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Tuesday called for soccer players Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who had their photographs taken with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, to be dropped from Germany’s World Cup squad in Russia.

Soccer Football - International Friendly - Germany vs Saudi Arabia - BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany - June 8, 2018 Germany's Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan before the match REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

The two players of Turkish descent angered some fans and politicians when they were pictured beaming with Erdogan last month and they have faced a barrage of criticism ever since, with lawmakers and the German football federation arguing that Erdogan does not sufficiently respect German values.

Defending champions Germany were on Sunday defeated 1-0 by Mexico in their first game at the World Cup. Coach Joachim Loew is in the crosshairs after sticking with a lacklustre Ozil instead of speedy, in-form winger Marco Reus.

“Team spirit isn’t working with Ozil and Gundogan in the German team because whoever only takes part half-heartedly can’t muster the necessary fighting spirit,” said Joern Koenig, the AfD’s spokesman on sport.

“Joachim Loew should cut the cord and send both of them home. There are national players who are proud of our country and Ozil and Gundogan should free up two spots on the national team for players who don’t pay more homage to the Turkish president than they do to the German homeland,” he said.

Gundogan also called Erdogan “my president” in a message although ties between the European Union and Turkey have deteriorated over the past two years amid a crackdown by Erdogan’s government on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in 2016.

Rival political parties did not immediately respond to the AfD remarks. Other political groups have generally refused to work with the AfD, which won seats in parliament for the first time last year.

Germany’s former World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthaeus also wrote in top-selling Bild newspaper that Ozil showed no passion on the pitch.

“When Ozil is on the pitch I often have the feeling that he doesn’t feel comfortable in the DFB shirt, that he’s not free and it’s almost as if he doesn’t even want to play,” Matthaeus wrote. The DFB is the German Football Association.

Loew had warned before the tournament that Ozil and Gundogan should prepare for more whistles and jeers over the photographs taken with Erdogan.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Peter Graff