Israel slams Argentina over cancelling friendly

Palestine welcomed Argentina’s decision after urging Messi and team to boycott the match

Palestinians denounced the friendly football match between Argentina and Israel and called on Lionel Messi to boycott the match.   -  AFP

Israel lashed out Wednesday at Argentina's national football team over the cancellation of a pre-World Cup friendly in Jerusalem, as Palestinians celebrated the decision after protesting the game.

The Israeli embassy in Argentina on Tuesday announced the “suspension” of Saturday's match with its national team, citing what it called “threats and provocations” against Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

The sold-out game in Jerusalem was hotly opposed by Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel, to be the capital of their future state. Israel considers Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital.

“It's a shame that Argentina's footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Twitter Wednesday. He said the sole aim of opponents of the Jerusalem game was “to strike at our basic right to self-defence and to bring about the destruction of Israel”.

The Palestinian Football Federation, which had urged Messi not to take part, welcomed the scrapping of the game. It insisted sport should not “be a tool for politicians and for political extortion”.

Israeli media said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentine President Mauricio Macri on late Tuesday in an effort to save the match but that Macri had said he was unable to intervene.Netanyahu is currently visiting Europe and his office could not immediately confirm the reports.

Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, considered close to Netanyahu, expressed ire with its front-page headline: “They surrendered to terrorism: The game against Argentina has been cancelled.”

Argentina team ‘reluctant’

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said before confirmation of the game's cancellation that he believed his country's players had been reluctant to travel to Israel for the match. “As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game,” Faurie said.

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli last week aired misgivings about having to travel to Israel, noting he 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.

On Sunday, Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and called on fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did. Rajoub told journalists he had written to Argentina's government asking that Messi not take part in the June 9 friendly.

“This match has become a political tool,” he said. “The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”