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Argentina cancels its Israel World Cup friendly in Jerusalem

A Palestinian football boss had urged fans to burn shirts bearing Messi’s name if he played the match in Jerusalem.

Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.
Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.
Image: Imago/PA Images

ARGENTINA’S UPCOMING FRIENDLY with Israel in Jerusalem has been cancelled after political pressure related to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The World Cup warmup match had been scheduled to take place on Saturday.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman slammed the Argentina national football team for cancelling, calling it a surrender to hate.

“It’s a shame that Argentina’s footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters,” he wrote on Twitter in the first response from an Israeli minister.

There were reports said that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had called the Argentinian president to ask him to persuade the team not to cancel their visit.

Local media had reported yesterday that the game was set to be scrapped, which was meant to serve as a final warm-up game before Argentina open their World Cup campaign in Russia on 16 June (they face Iceland).

In the lead up to the match, there had been protests by Palestinian football authorities who had urged Messi not to take part in the Jerusalem match.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie told reporters in Washington on the sidelines of the Organization of American States meeting that he believed Argentina’s players had been reluctant to travel to Israel for the game.

“As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game,” Faurie said before confirmation of the game’s cancellation.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli had last week aired misgivings about having to travel to Israel, noting he would have preferred to remain in Barcelona, where the team is holding its pre-World Cup training camp.

“From a sporting point of view, I would have preferred to play in Barcelona,” Sampaoli said.

But that’s the way it is, we have to travel on the day before the match, play Israel in Israel and then from there go on to Russia.

Lionel Messi

On Sunday, Palestinian football boss Jibril Rajoub urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and urged fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Rajoub told journalists he had written to Argentina’s government asking that Messi not take part in the 9 June friendly.

“This match has become a political tool,” Rajoub said in Arabic.

The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Football Federation welcomed the cancellation of the match and said that with it, sport will not be used as “a tool of political blackmail”.

It praised the Argentine players “led by the star Messi for refusing to be used as a bridge to achieve non-sporting goals”.

In a statement confirming the cancellation, the Embassy of Israel said the match was suspended due to “threats and provocations” against Messi.

Palestinians are outraged at US President Donald Trump’s decision last December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of policy, and move his country’s embassy there.

The embassy opened on 14 May, fanning Palestinian anger and intensifying protests on the Gaza border, with Israeli forces killing at least 61 Gazans that day.

Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state. The Jewish state considers the entire city its own “indivisible” capital.

“Messi is a symbol of peace and love,” Rajoub said. “We ask him not to participate in laundering the crimes of the occupation.”

Messi, he added, “has tens of millions of fans in the Arab and Muslim countries… we ask everyone to burn their shirts which bear his name and posters (with his image).”

© – AFP 2018with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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