Giorgos Katidis said he was unaware of the historical significance of his gesture. (Reuters)

A Greek soccer player has been banned for life from the national team for giving a Nazi salute as he celebrated a goal Saturday.

The gesture by Giorgos Katidis, the 20-year-old midfielder for AEK Athens, “is a deep insult to all victims of Nazi brutality,” the country’s soccer federation said in a statement.

Katidis drew immediate criticism on social media, but said on Twitter that he was unaware of the significance of the gesture and claimed that he was pointing to Michalis Pavlis, an injured teammate who was in the crowd. Katidis had scored the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 win over Veria.

“I am not racist in any way,” Katidis said on Twitter (in a Daily Mail translation). “I abhor fascism. I would not have done it if I knew that it meant something. I know the consequences and would not do it ever.”

Ewald Lienen, the teams German coach, backed Katidis. He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas,” he said. “He most likely saw such a salute on the internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means.”

Katidis has been asked to explain his gesture at an AEK Athens board meeting this week.

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