World Cup 2018

Argentina call off final warm up match against Israel

The pre-World Cup fixture was cancelled after protests by pro-Palestinian groups.

Argentina call off final warm up match against Israel
GUSTAVO ORTIZ DIARIO AS

Argentina have called off their final warm up match against Israel following pressure from Palestinian football officials and pro-Palestinian groups.

The friendly had been scheduled for Saturday at the Teddy Kollek Stadium in the contested city of Jerusalem.

Earlier this week, Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), called on Arab and Muslim football fans to burn photos and jerseys of Lionel Messi if he joined the friendly.

‘(Messi) 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),’ Rajoub said.

He also accused Israel of using the match as a ‘political tool’ and urged the chief of the Argentinian FA to cancel the encounter.

‘The Israeli government has turned a regular sports match into a political tool. As was widely covered in Argentinian media, the match now is being played in order to celebrate the ‘70th anniversary of the State of Israel’,’ Rajoub stated.

The game was originally slated to be played in Haifa, however, Israeli authorities moved it to Jerusalem following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

According to Rajoub, holding the match ‘sends a dangerous message to the Israeli government that the world is ignoring its gross violations of human rights.’

Victorious boycott

The cancellation of the match came hours after pro-Palestinian activists staged a demonstration in front of the sports complex in Barcelona where the Argentinian national team were preparing ahead of the World Cup.

Several waved Argentina’s white and sky-blue jersey stained with red paint resembling blood.

The calling off was well received by the PFA, as it issued a statement thanking Messi and his colleagues for cancelling the friendly.

‘The Palestinian FA thanks Argentina’s players led by star Messi for refusing to be used to serve a non-sporting goal.’

Argentinean striker Gonzalo Higuaín told ESPN that cancelling the match was the right thing to do.

‘Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn't right to go,’ the Juventus striker said.

Israel disappointed

In a statement issued through Twitter, the Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wrote that it was ‘a shame that Argentina's footballing nobility did not withstand the pressure from Israeli-hating inciters.’

According to a report by Israeli news site Arutz Sheva, the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to Argentinian President Mauricio Macri after the cancellation of the match.

Macri reportedly told him he had no influence over the decision.

The cancellation of the game means that Argentina will not play another friendly before their opening World Cup game against Iceland on 16 June.