Barcelona and its superstar Messi arrive in Israel, PA for historic visit

Club to visit Kotel in J'lem, Basilica of Nativity in Bethlehem.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi steps out of bus in Jerusalem 37 (photo credit: Daniel Bar On)
Barcelona star Lionel Messi steps out of bus in Jerusalem 37
(photo credit: Daniel Bar On)
Over 20,000 excited fans at Dura Stadium near Hebron got to experience first-hand a Barcelona training session on Saturday in the first day of the Spanish club’s Peace Tour in the Middle East.
The Barcelona squad, including Leo Messi and new signing Neymar, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport in the early afternoon, and after a short break at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, visited the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Their next stop was Dura Stadium where they underwent a full training session before returning to Jerusalem ahead of an even busier day on Sunday.
The team will visit the Western Wall before taking part in an official reception with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in the president’s residence.
At around 6 p.m., the team is scheduled to arrive at Bloomfield where a capacity crowd of 14,500 spectators, who all received free tickets, will be on hand to watch the clinic.
Barcelona will leave Israel just before midnight on Sunday on a flight to Bangkok, the first stop of its Asia Tour.
President Peres will officially open Sunday’s event by delivering remarks during which he will emphasize the importance of the visit by Barcelona in Israel and the Palestinian Authority for advancing peace and tolerance through sport. After the remarks by President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president of FC Barcelona Sandro Rosell will also deliver remarks. As part of the welcome ceremony, Education Minister Rabbi Shay Piron will present a charter of tolerance and acceptance of the other named “The Other is Me” initiative which will be signed by President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Minister Piron. At the end of the reception there will be a group photograph of the players with President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Barca arrived in Israel the day after its 8-0 victory over Brazilian club Santos in the Joan Gamper Trophy for what the club is calling a “historic” trip with the aim of strengthening “institutional ties with the leaders of the two communities and build bridges of dialogue for peace.”
Neymar marked his home debut for Barcelona on Friday with a fine assist but a goal eluded the Brazil forward against his former club.
The 21-year-old, who completed a high-profile move to Spain at the end of May, came on at halftime at the Nou Camp and set up Cesc Fabregas to score his second of the night before shaving the crossbar with a fierce effort of his own late on.
World Player of the Year Messi set Barca on their way with a goal in the eighth minute and was on the pitch with Neymar for the first time for just over 15 minutes at the start of the second half before the Argentina forward was substituted.
Santos defender Leo netted an own goal in the 12th minute before Alexis Sanchez made it 3-0 to the home side 10 minutes later and Pedro added another in the 28th.
Spain midfielder Fabregas looked sharp after he came on at halftime and quickly made it 6-0 with a welltaken double before smashing a free kick against a post and Adriano and B team teenager Jean Marie Dongou completed the rout.
Barca begins the defense of its La Liga title, chasing a fifth triumph in six seasons, at home to Levante in just over two weeks.
Neymar said he is living a boyhood dream by joining up with Messi.
“When I am training it feels like being in a dream,” said Neymar, the standout performer for his country in their Confederations Cup triumph in June.
“A dream I had when I was a kid and that is coming true now,” he added. “I turn my head and there is Messi. Or Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta or [Carles] Puyol. I feel complete, it is like a dream. I am really, really happy.”
Neymar is likely to occupy a position wide on the left under new coach Gerardo Martino, with Messi in his more central role, and Barca fans are eager to see how the gifted pair will perform.
Neymar said he saw no reason to change the way he plays and that he and Messi were fully compatible.
“I have to keep on doing my thing and fulfill this dream,” he said.
“He is wonderful, Messi. He is always happy, he is a great guy. We talk every day.
“Don’t worry, I am sure there is going to be no problem at all. He is my idol. For me, he is the best. I respect him a lot and I hope to be able to help him out.”
Neymar and the rest of the Barca players and staff alike spent their one night here in Israel at the Inbal hotel which prepared tailor made special meals to meet with the athletes’ specific dietary requirements. The club and Comtec, the company producing the visit, picked the hotel out of all of the five star hotels in Jerusalem due to its ability to meet the strict requirements as well as the high level of service that the city’s only Five Star Deluxe hotel can provide.
Bruno De Schuyter, General Manager at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, said: “We are proud to host Barcelona on this historic trip to Israel. They will enjoy the hotel’s gourmet food which will be healthy and balanced as well. The Inbal is dedicated to provide its guests with a truly luxurious Jerusalem experience coupled with a healthy and active lifestyle. The entire team will have that and more while they’re with us.”
The hotel made an array of special arrangements based on the team’s strict requirements. Over 100 rooms were set aside for the players, coaches, staff and families. They will be staying on separate floors in rooms with spectacular views of the Israeli capital.
Reuters contributed to this report