BUENOS AIRES/TEL-AVIV: Argentina have cancelled Saturday’s World Cup warm-up against Israel in Jerusalem amid an escalating political war of words writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Sources close to the AFA indicated that the increasing weight of pressure on captain Lionel Messi had persuaded it to call off the national team’s fifth pre-World Cup visits to Israel since 1986.
The match had been scheduled in Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium which is built on land that, according to Palestinians, was a village destroyed in 1948.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri late Tuesday, at Culture Minister Miri Regev’s request, in an attempt to save the game. However Macri responded that the decision was not up to him.
Argentina’s coach Jorge Sampaoli is understood to have been opposed to the game as an unnecessary distraction in his World Cup preparations.
Husni Abdel Wahed, Palestine’s ambassador in Argentina, had expressed his opposition to the game as had Jibril Rajoub, head of both the Palestinian Football Association and Olympic Committee.
Wahed complained that Argentina’s footballers would be tangled up in celebrations of Israel’s 70th anniversary since its creation in 1948.
He said: “For us it is unacceptable to hold this game in Jerusalem because it is occupied territory, and it is painful to see that the team, which has the love and support of so many Palestinians and Arab citizens, support the violation of international law.”
Rajoub had urged fans to burn pictures of Messi and replicas of his shirt if he played in the match.
Mohammed Khalil, a Palestinian footballer, also urged Messi to stay away, saying: “I call on the Argentinian team and especially captain Lionel Messi – because he is very popular in Palestine, particularly in the Gaza Strip – to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel, which is occupying our land.”
Khalil was shot by Israeli snipers on March 30, during the first Friday protests of Palestinians demonstrating east of Gaza, demanding their right to return. He was shot in both legs and a knee cap had to be removed, ending his career.