Argentina vs. Israel football match called off after calls to burn Lionel Messi shirts | football | Hindustan Times
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Argentina vs. Israel football match called off after calls to burn Lionel Messi shirts

The FIFA World Cup 2018 warm-up match between Argentina and Israel was cancelled following protests by Palestinian football authorities who had urged Lionel Messi and co. not to take part.

football Updated: Jun 06, 2018 09:42 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Buenos Aires
Israel Palestine,Israel vs Argentina,Lionel Messi
On Sunday, Palestinian football boss Jibril Rajoub urged Lionel Messi not to play in the game vs Israel in Jerusalem and urged fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.(AFP)

Argentina’s upcoming friendly with Israel in Jerusalem has been cancelled, the Israeli embassy confirmed on Tuesday, citing unspecified threats against Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

The FIFA World Cup 2018 warm-up match had been scheduled to take place on Saturday.

But its status had been placed in doubt earlier, following protests by Palestinian football authorities who had urged Messi not to take part.

“The Embassy of Israel regrets to communicate the suspension of the match between Israel and Argentina,” a statement said, referring to “threats and provocations” against Messi.

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Local media had reported earlier Tuesday that the game was set to be scrapped, depriving Messi and his team-mates of a final warm-up game before they open their World Cup campaign in Russia.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie told reporters in Washington on the sidelines of the Organization of American States meeting that he believed Argentina’s players had been reluctant to travel to Israel for the game.

A picture taken on June 5, 2018, shows a poster erected on a main street in the West Bank town of Hebron next to a portrait of the Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (R), denouncing the upcoming friendly football match between Argentina and Israel and calling Argentina's star Lionel Messi (portrait) to boycott the match. (AFP)

“As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game,” Faurie said before confirmation of the game’s cancellation.

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

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“From a sporting point of view, I would have preferred to play in Barcelona,” Sampaoli said.

“But that’s the way it is, we have to travel on the day before the match, play Israel in Israel and then from there go on to Russia.”

On Sunday, Palestinian football boss Jibril Rajoub urged Messi not to play in the game in Jerusalem and urged fans to burn shirts bearing his name if he did.

At a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 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,” Rajoub said in Arabic.

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“The Israeli government is trying to give it political significance by insisting it be held in Jerusalem.”

Palestinians are outraged at US President Donald Trump’s decision last December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking with decades of policy, and move his country’s embassy there.

The embassy opened on May 14, fanning Palestinian anger and intensifying protests on the Gaza border, with Israeli forces killing at least 61 Gazans that day.

Palestinians claim the eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, as the capital of their future state. The Jewish state considers the entire city its own “indivisible” capital.

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“Messi is a symbol of peace and love,” Rajoub said. “We ask him not to participate in laundering the crimes of the occupation.”

Messi, he added, “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).”

First Published: Jun 06, 2018 09:01 IST