FANS SITTING in Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv watch Russia’s win over Saudi Arabia in last night’s opening World Cup game. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Soccer fans from all over the world gathered in sports bars across Jerusalem to grab a beer, munch on hot wings and root for their favorite teams in the first game of the World Cup last night.
Israel (unsurprisingly) did not qualify for the Cup, continuing the pattern that has persisted since 1970, when they qualified as an Asian team. Currently, they compete in the European zone.
“It’s always been like that, it’s not surprising,” Portugal and Spain fan David Weinstein said, who is on vacation from America. “If they don’t put Israel with Europe maybe we’ll get in.”
However, fans at the bars found other teams to root for, like Shei Bereitchevsky, who wasn’t too concerned with Israel not qualifying.
“Every game is against,” said the Brazil native and fan.
Israel had a friendly match planned against Argentina last week, but due to Palestinian pressure, Argentina pulled out just days before the Jerusalem game. Threats against Lionel Messi, the team’s star player, and his family were a key reason the team decided not to come.
Argentinian citizen Valenin Saumia, vacationing in Jerusalem, was ashamed of the team’s decision.
“They really don’t know how [people] live here, how it’s not insecure and how they gave their support indirectly to terrorists, to Hamas,” Saumia said.
To the fans, politics got in the way.
“I didn’t like how the Palestinians tried to mix politics with soccer,” Weinstein said. “I understand Messi’s decision – it’s a pretty serious threat. Israel made a complaint with FIFA, so hopefully it won’t happen again.”
The complaint against the Palestinian Football Association is for pressuring the Argentinian players to cancel the match. Before Argentina canceled, they issued a statement that said, “Should the Argentinian National team continue its plans to play in Jerusalem, we will launch a worldwide campaign to question Argentina’s eligibility to host the FIFA World Cup 2030.”
The association’s president, Jibril Rajoub, also urged fans to burn their Messi shirts and posters if the game was played.
Uri Bereitchevsky thinks the pressure was political and threatening, but also monetary.
“Qatar Airlines, they pay for [the Argentinian team],” said Uri, whose wife is from Argentina. “You can see it on their uniforms. The Argentinian Jews already know that the Arabs have a lot of power in their world. They control Argentina… they have a lot of people. If they pay for Argentina, they are Arabs.”
Qatar Airlines, whose headquarters are in Doha, Qatar, recently extended their contract with Barcelona, which Messi plays for when he is not playing internationally with Argentina. While the Barcelona has “Qatar Airways” emblazoned on the front of their uniforms, the only advertisement the Argentina uniforms have on the front is a small Adidas logo.
To David Firestein, the problem was with Israel’s ego, especially after the embassy was moved to Jerusalem.
“[They] just made it more political, rather than just sports,” said Firestein, an Israel native.
Yet, overall, despite the political conflicts, everyone was excited to watch some good soccer from some of the most talented players in the world.