Argentina cancel friendly in Israel amid protests, officials say
Jun 06 2018
Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi will go to the World Cup in Russian Federation this summer hoping to finally win the first global trophy of his illustrious career, but he claims that pursuit is not an obsession because of the added personal pressure such an outlook brings.
The twice World Cup winners face Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in what is considered to be one of the hardest groups in the tournament.
Israel is accused of politicizing the match by dragging the event into the 70-year celebrations of the founding of the state and using it to support the recent USA decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. "I think it's three or four times now we've been drawn with Nigeria and it will be a hard group".
Israeli organizers said an offer had been floated to have the game played in Barcelona instead, but it was highly unlikely.
On Sunday, he called for Palestinians to burn replica shirts and pictures of Messi.
The stadium that was due to host the match is in west Jerusalem.
In an interview with Paper Magazine, Messi said: "It will be important to prepare well, because in the qualifiers we were fighting up to the end and we didn't have time to prepare ourselves".
The Argentine decision may also have been influenced by deadly violence along the Israeli-Gaza border. More than a hundred Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces during protests in Gaza in recent weeks to mark the Nakba, or catastrophe, of Israel's formation in 1948 and the USA relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
PFA President Jibril Rajoub accused Israel of "politicizing sport" by hosting the match in Jerusalem. "And of course some of them hate us and that contributed too", a senior official told Yedioth Ahronoth, a widely circulated Israeli newspaper.
The Argentines have played just five times since the conclusion of their qualifying campaign in November, the last of which being a 4-0 win over Haiti in May.
Argentina are now looking for a last minute rival for another friendly, which would take place in Barcelona.
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem al-Quds as the capital of their future state.
The head of the Palestinian football association told a press conference on Wednesday that the world had given Israel a "red card" with the cancellation, having urgedLionel Messi not to partake in the game while calling on Arab and Muslim sports fans to burn their Messi jerseys.
The decision comes after rights groups urged Argentinian players to boycott Israel over its mistreatment of Palestinians.