Qatar fans hold Mesut Ozil signs at World Cup in response to Germany protest

AL KHOR, Qatar -- Qatari fans hit back at Germany's World Cup protest on Sunday by holding pictures of former national team player Mesut Ozil and covering their mouths during the match against Spain.

A group of fans held copies of a hand-drawn sketch of Ozil, while others showed pictures of him in action for Germany.

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The clearly coordinated display was apparently in response to Germany players' gesture on Wednesday, when they covered their mouths to protest against FIFA following the governing body's clampdown on the "One Love" armband. That gesture was a response to FIFA's effective nixing of seven European teams' plans to wear armbands that were seen as a rebuke to host nation Qatar and their human rights record.

Qatari fans appeared Sunday to reference Germany's own questionable treatment of Ozil, the former player who quit the national team after becoming a target of racist abuse and a scapegoat for Germany's early World Cup exit in 2018.

Ozil, a German-born descendant of Turkish immigrants, accused the country's federation, fans and media of racism in their treatment of people with Turkish roots.

"I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," Ozil said at the time.

The abuse started before the 2018 World Cup when Özil posed for photographs with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and increased after the tournament, helped by incendiary statements from Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff and the federation president at the time, Reinhard Grindel.

Grindel later said he should have given Ozil, who retired from the national team in July of 2018, more support.

Germany and Spain drew 1-1 in the match at Al Bayt Stadium with both teams in position to advance to the round of 16 pending the outcomes of their group finales on Wednesday.