From Kotel to Bloomfield: Busy day for Barca

Spanish champ concludes two-day trip to Middle East with more visits, ceremonies, clinics.

Peres Barcelona (photo credit: יוסף אבי יאיר אנגל)
Peres Barcelona
(photo credit: יוסף אבי יאיר אנגל)
FC Barcelona left Israel just before midnight on Sunday after exhilarating tens of thousands of fans, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims alike, throughout a two-day visit to the Middle East.
After spending the first day of its visit in the Palestinian Authority, Lionel Messi & Co. had an even busier day on Sunday, meeting Israel’s top statesmen and visiting the Western Wall before completing the trip by putting on a clinic with children at Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa.
While the club’s players remained silent throughout what was branded as the Peace Tour, the politicians, both Israeli and Spanish, thrived in the hyped visit.
“I want to thank Barca for making the dream of the children come true,” said Israel President Shimon Peres. “Israeli and Palestinian children have two dreams, first to score the winning goal at Camp Nou and second to achieve a peace between the two people.”
A capacity crowd of over 14,000 packed into Bloomfield to watch Barcelona participate in drills for half an hour with six groups of seven children each, before beginning its own hour-long practice.
The team entered the field to roaring applause as each player held the hands of young Israeli soccer players.
Chants of “Messi, Messi!” broke out at many points during practice as Israelis showed their appreciation for the world class football star.
“Barca, welcome!” Peres told the team prior to the clinic. “You are messengers for peace. You brought light to our children… and a message of peace to the Middle East. Thank you.”
Peres instructed the cheering crowd to “play football and make friends. Don’t make war and make enemies.”
Addressing Israel’s young footballers in Hebrew, Peres promised “the day will come when one of you will be just like Messi.”
The president concluded his speech by ceremonially kicking a ball to Messi before the two shook hands.
Earlier in the day, Barcelona visited the President’s Residence, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also on hand, as the two welcomed the club to Israel and endorsed its message of peace.
“There is something in the spirit of sports and the universal love for football that creates common ties,” said Netanyahu. “That is the real message. There are common ties between people and they can be enhanced by sports.”
On Saturday, Barcelona held a similar clinic for Palestinian children in the West Bank, where they also met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.