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Ilkay Gundogan backs Mesut Ozil's racism claim, will keep playing for Germany

Ilkay Gundogan has broken his silence after Mesut Ozil's withdrawal from the Germany team, saying he remains proud to represent his country but acknowledged that racism was a factor in his former teammate's exit.

Gundogan and Ozil, Germans with Turkish roots, were photographed with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a reception in London in May, sparking backlash in Germany that enveloped the national team and overshadowed its exit from the World Cup in the group stage in June.

When asked whether Ozil's allegations that some criticism of the two players was racially motivated, Gundogan, the Manchester City midfielder, responded by mentioning Bernd Holzhauer, a former councillor in the town of Bebra who resigned after publicly insulting them.

"Tell me: Is it not racism if a German politician takes to Facebook that the Germany team is made out of 25 Germans and two goat f---ers?" Gundogan said in an interview with Funke Media.

"Such remarks must be labelled as racism. However, it does not mean that everyone in Germany is racist. Absolutely not. Almost all of my experiences in my life in Germany have been positive. But there are people who have used the photo for their political agenda. And in this context, the racism line was sometimes crossed."

Ozil, 29, cited racism in Germany, as well as at the top of the German football federation (DFB), as he retired from international football in mid-July in the aftermath of the World Cup.

Both players were selected for the national team, but Ozil, the Arsenal midfielder, was made the scapegoat for the World Cup exit by some media as well as parts of the German public.

Germany's Mesut Ozil, left, and Ilkay Gundogan during the World Cup game against Sweden.
Mesut Ozil, left, and Ilkay Gundogan were heavily criticised for taking a photo with the president of Turkey.

Asked about Ozil's withdrawal from the Germany team, Gundogan, 27, said it "was a pity from a sporting point of view." Gundogan said that Ozil, who, like Gundogan, was born in Gelsenkirchen, was "one of the reasons I wanted to play for Germany."

"I would have wished for a more deserved farewell," Gundogan said.

Addressing his own future, Gundogan said that he did not consider stepping down from the national team, "but I had my doubts if things could be like they were before," he said.

"If you get attacked by so many, get whistled by your own fans and insulted by a German politician, you start thinking," Gundogan said. "But I don't want to run away. [I want to] face the situation.

"I am still proud to play for Germany. If I get the call-up, I see no reason to not continue. I also know that I owe a lot to the DFB in my career."

On Wednesday, Germany coach Joachim Low will announce his first post-World Cup squad for the UEFA Nations League match against France next month.

Low has not made any public statements since the World Cup exit and has yet to comment on Ozil's withdrawal.

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