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Argentina calls off Jerusalem World Cup warm-up

  • Sport8June
Anti-Israel activists had the final say as Argentina pulled out of its World Cup warm-up football match against Israel scheduled to be played in Jerusalem on Saturday night.
by JACK MILNER | Jun 07, 2018

“It’s a shame that Argentina’s footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israel-hating inciters,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman tweeted after hearing about the decision on Wednesday morning.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia next week, and all qualified teams are trying to get in as much practise as possible before the start. Argentina offered to play in Israel. According to the organisation selling the tickets, the 20 000-seater Teddy Stadium in West Jerusalem was sold out within 20 minutes.

The Argentinian Football Association informed their Israeli counterparts that the team would not play, citing safety of the players as the main reason. The Israeli embassy in Argentina announced the “suspension” of the match, blaming “threats and provocation” against Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.

“We shall not surrender to a group of anti-Semites who support terror,” Lieberman said.

President Reuven Rivlin lamented that the Argentinians had not made an effort to keep sport free of politics.

“The politicisation that lies in the Argentinian step worries me greatly. Even at the most difficult of times, we made an effort to leave considerations that are not purely about sports off the playing field, and it is a shame that the Argentinian team wasn’t careful to do that this time,” Rivlin said.

On hearing the news, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri to intervene.

The Argentinian president, with whom Netanyahu has good relations, reportedly said the government had no impact on what was a private decision.

Netanyahu’s response – according to the Jerusalem Post – was brief: “We continue on, friends.”

Israel-Argentina ties improved significantly with Macri's election in 2015. The decision to cancel the match is not expected to have an impact on these relations.

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuaín said in an interview with ESPN: “They’ve finally done the right thing.”

The visit of the two-time World Cup winners had attracted huge interest among Israeli fans, mainly because of Lionel Messi’s planned participation.

People in Gaza cheered, and in Ramallah in the West Bank, the Palestinian Football Association issued a statement thanking Messi and his colleagues for cancelling the game.

“The Palestinian FA thanks Argentina’s players led by star Messi for refusing to be used to serve a non-sporting goal,” it read.

Palestinian FA Chairman Jibril Rajoub said: “Values, morals, and sport have secured a victory today, and a red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game.”

Rajoub called a news conference in Ramallah later in the day, which he was planning to hold outside the Argentinian representative’s office. On Sunday, he had called for Palestinians to burn replica shirts and pictures of Messi.

The cancellation is just one more obstacle for Argentina, whose World Cup preparations have been troubled this time around.

The team suffered a 6-1 defeat by Spain in a friendly in March, and it lost its first-choice goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, to injury, giving little encouragement to fans who watched the team struggle to qualify for the tournament in Russia.

Argentina faces Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in what is considered to be one of the hardest groups in the tournament.

(Additional reporting from Times of Israel)

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