(WFI) Lionel Messi and the Argentine national team face the prospect of competing in the upcoming World Cup having played only one friendly game to prepare for the Russia event.
The Argentinians are now desperately looking for a last-minute opponent for next weekend after cancelling their next planned friendly game against Israel.
Early Wednesday, the Israeli Embassy in Argentina confirmed that the game had been cancelled, citing unspecified “threats and provocations” against star player Lionel Messi. Argentine media also reported that the reason for the cancellation was a series of threats made against Messi and his wife.
Saturday’s match was scheduled to be played at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in west Jerusalem, which sits on the site of a Palestinian village, al-Malha.
In a letter on May 28, Palestine Football Association chief Jibril Rajoub urged the Argentine Football Association (AFA) to call off the game after it was moved to Jerusalem from the city of Haifa following, according to him, “political pressure by the Israeli government”
On Sunday, Rajoub even urged fans to burn pictures of striker Messi and replicas of his shirt if he played in the match.
Pressure on Messi and the AFA to cancel the match has also included demonstrations in Buenos Aires, and in Barcelona in front of the national team’s training camp.
After the cancellation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentina’s president in an attempt to reinstate the game, but was told by Mauricio Macri that “there was nothing that I could do”, Israel’s Army Radio reported.
According to Clarin newspaper in Argentina, Macri apologized to Netanyahu and said the players motives “were not political”.
The cancellation of the game was met with cheers in Gaza, where at least 120 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured by Israeli forces during recent protests against the recent relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
At the West Bank, Rajoub, told a press conference this Wednesday that the decision was “on the right track”.
“I think this is according to FIFA statutes and according to their principles and mission to promote ethics and values, and to build a bridge between nations rather than being a tool for political ends,” said Palestinian football boss, adding “the Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina.”
“What happened… is a red card from the rest of the world to Israelis,” Rajoub said.
But Israel’s defense minister said it was “too bad the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters whose only goal is to impinge our basic right to self-defense and bring about Israel’s destruction”.
“We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters,” Avigdor Lieberman tweeted.
Argentina’s football president, Claudio Tapia, said at a press conference the cancellation should be regarded as a “message of world peace” while from the dressing room, striker Gonzalo Higuain defended the player’s decision.
“In the end, they’ve done right thing, and this is behind us,” Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”
AFA vice president Hugo Moyano went even further and said the friendly against Israel was “not worth it”.
“The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can’t accept that in any way,” Moyano told Argentina’s Radio 10.
Argentina’s coach Jorge Sampaoli said the chances of the Israel team going to Barcelona were small, and according to press reports, Argentina has already dismissed the chance of playing the friendly against Malta or any other sparring team.
The Albicelestes have made four previous pre-World Cup stopovers in Israel since 1986. The team will open its World Cup campaign against Iceland in Moscow on June 16.
Homepage photo: Argentine Football Association
By INSIDER Javier Monne
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