Argentina's Lionel Messi.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Football Association plans to file a formal complaint with FIFA over the cancellation of Saturday's Israel-Argentina friendly, the organization said in a Facebook post on Wednesday, after overnight reports that the match was cancelled by the Argentinian FA. While the IFA said no official confirmation was received by Israel, it also stated that "it is clear [the match's] very existence is in doubt."
"The Association views with severity the physical and brutal threats that crossed every red line made by Palestinian Football Association chair Jibril Rajoub," the IFA said. "The chair will send a letter today to FIFA President Gianni Infantino demanding punishment for those who want to harm soccer players and those who torpedoed a friendly match between the two teams."
The IFA said its national team players were updated about the situation and will be kept abreast about future developments.
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The Israeli embassy in Argentina tweeted on Wednesday that it regrets the cancellation of the soccer match between Argentina and Israel and that the decision was made "after threats were made on the life of Lionel Messi, logically, the other players showed solidarity with him and they were afraid to take part in the match."
Palestinian soccer chief says fans should burn Messi's shirt if he plays against Israel in Jerusalem, June 3, 2018 (Reuters)
The embassy stated that such threats are not new to Israeli athletes or citizens and that Israel "always waits with good will for the chance to host one of the great stars of Argentinian sport."
"I hope the Argentinian national team will not yield to terrorism," said Culture Minister Miri Regev Tuesday night after learning that soccer players were sent threatening images and death-threats should they decide to play in the Israeli capital this Saturday.
Regev stated that any allegations that the game was cancelled because she insisted it would take place in Jerusalem are "nonsense" and that "some MKs are acting like Trojan horses."
Regev pushed to move the friendly match from the original location of Haifa to the Israeli capital. She also claimed Argentinian world-class soccer player Lionel Messi would visit the Kotel and shake her hand.
Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said that Regev should realize that "the international community will not yield to the Israeli government... Israel... does not deserve an award but [is deserving of] punishment." Erekat thanked Argentina for cancelling the planned game.
President Reuven Rivlin called it a "sad day" on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the "politicization... worries me greatly."
"Even during the most difficult periods, we have made every effort to keep sports pure, and it is a shame that the Argentinian national team did not do that in this instance."
Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain commented on the cancellation in an interview with ESPN.
"They've finally done the right thing," Higuain said in an interview, confirming reports the game had been cancelled following political pressure.
Lebanon-based television channel Al Mayadeen tweeted that the head of the Palestinian Federation in South America stated that the pressure to cancel the game with Israel came from Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and team coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Argentinian media said the decision came after pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated in Buenos Aires and Barcelona against the pre-World Cup match being played in Jerusalem.
"This is a Palestinian victory, one nil, in the 90th minute," said Join List MK Ahmad Tibi. "All due to an own-goal from [Culture] Minister Miri Regev."
"[I want to] thank Messi; he and his teammates made the right decision in favor of sport and against politicization," he said.
Rajoub told the press that if the Argentinian national team comes Israel and plays, even in a different city than the capital, "we will act to ensure they will not be able to offer themselves as hosts of the 2030 World Cup."
Calling the Argentinian decision to play in Israel "handing oneself over to politics" Rajoub claimed the Israeli government desires that "Palestinian children will see their heroes play [soccer] over the graves of their fathers."
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said that "the Israeli government might win Trump, but it loses the entire world." Stating that it is impossible to enjoy games when millions of Palestinians don't enjoy "human rights" Odeh said that "there is only one way to win: ending the occupation and having a real peace treaty, which is still possible."
Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata lamented the cancellation, saying "it was a high-point for many children and adults."
"It began with the discussion over the Independence Day ceremony, continued with unending arguments regarding the next Eurovision contest and now the cancelled game with the Argentinian team," she said. "This is not sport nor culture, it's the finest ugly politics possible."
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich took to Twitter to write: "So Argentina is canceling. So much money, trickery and lies, a clumsy bear-hug with added insane pressure the game should be held in Jerusalem. And for dessert, Regev mumbling in anger: 'I want to see if Messi will not shake my hand as well as the hand of the Prime Minister.' You will see, you will see."
The match in Jerusalem's Teddy Kollek Stadium was to be Argentina's final game before they kick off their World Cup campaign in Russia on June 16.
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