Argentina calls off Israel friendly after protests

Lawrence Cooper
June 7, 2018

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

With an incredible record of 563 goals in 637 games for Barca, along with 32 major titles, Messi is widely considered as the greatest player to have graced football.

Until now, the South Americans had been scheduled to contest a friendly with Israel in Jerusalem on Saturday as their final warm-up before the World Cup.

The head of the Palestinian football federation, Jibril Rajoub, has asked supporters of the Palestinian cause, mostly Arabs and Muslims, to burn photos and t-shirts of Argentinean star Lionel Messi, if he participates in the game, which is scheduled for Saturday.

The Palestinians accused Israel of moving the match to Jerusalem to exploit the presence of Messi and other stars to underpin Israel's claim to the Holy City.

A source at Argentina's football federation confirmed the cancellation of the global friendly scheduled to be played on Saturday at Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem.

"The right thing was done, it's not worth it". Let us know in the comments section below.

Argentina Football Association president Claudio Tapia said: "Yesterday the decision was taken to not travel and play the friendly game against Israel".

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In Gaza, people cheered and in Ramallah in the West Bank, the Palestinian FA issued a statement thanking Messi and his colleagues for cancelling the game.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri and urged him to intervene, to no avail, on Tuesday.

Palestinians are outraged at Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, breaking with decades of policy, and choosing to move his country's embassy there.

The Argentine decision may also have been influenced by deadly violence along the Israeli-Gaza border. "[Lionel] Messi can not turn his back on the Palestinian victims", said Jabareen, according to an Israel National News report. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

At least 125 Palestinians have been killed there since 30 March.

Jorge Sampaoli's men will face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in Group D in Russian Federation and while Messi admitted Argentina - runners-up in 2014 - were below the level of the favourites, he hopes they can deliver at the showpiece tournament. Israel regards Jerusalem as its "eternal and undivided" capital.

The sole aim of opponents of the Jerusalem game, Lieberman said Wednesday, was "to strike at our basic right to self-defence and to bring about the destruction of Israel".

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