In the face of worldwide outcry over violence against innocent Palestinians in Gaza, Argentina has decided to pull out of soccer match against Israel, days before Lionel Messi and other players were scheduled to land in Jerusalem, media reports said Tuesday.
The match, South Americans’ final warm up game before the World Cup in Russia next week, was scheduled to be played in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on June 9, was highly anticipated in Israel with tickets selling out in 20 minutes.
According to reports, the Argentina’s football association made the decision to withdraw from the Saturday friendly amid an escalation of violence and criticism.
They have informed the Israeli organizers, but have not yet made an official announcement, according to widespread reports in Argentinean media.
Argentina, a two-time world champion and one of the favorites of the upcoming World Cup this summer, has made four previous pre-World Cup visits to Israel since 1986.
While Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his Argentinian counterpart Mauricio Macri in light of this latest development.
The ambassador of Palestine in Argentina, Husni Abdel Wahed, had expressed his opposition to the friendly match, saying the match would be similar to them celebrating … the occupation.
On Sunday, Palestinian football boss Rajoub urged the Argentinean captain Messi, very popular in the Gaza Strip, not to play in the match, asking him and his team to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and to boycott the scheduled game with Israel. He added that the fans will burn their shirts if he appears.
It is also learnt that a group of Palestinian children also wrote to their favorite football star Messi to shun playing the friendly with Israel in Jerusalem as it would hurt to their sentiments.