Argentina have pulled out of a friendly against Israel in Jerusalem following “threats and provocations” towards captain Lionel Messi.
The two sides were due to meet on Saturday at the Teddy Kollek stadium in the Israeli city ahead of Jorge Sampaoli’s team heading to Russia for the World Cup.
Argentina are in Group D alongside Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria as the country bids to win the tournament for a third time.
The Palestinian Football Association – which had called on Argentina to pull out of the game – said in a statement that the friendly had been called off.
Official confirmation followed from both the Argentina Football Association (AFA) and Embassy of Israel in Argentina, which detailed the allegations in relation to Barcelona star Messi.
AFA president Claudio Tapia said at a press conference in Barcelona, as quoted on the organisation’s official website: “Yesterday the decision was taken to not travel and play the friendly game against Israel.
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“We apologise to all the Argentines that live in Israel and the Israelis that bought the tickets so fast to watch the Argentina national team.
“We face a reality that has been going on for 70 years. What we’ve experienced in the last 72 hours, which is public knowledge, the actions, the threats that have occurred, have led us to decide not to travel.
“My responsibility as president of the Argentina Football Association is to look after the health, physical integrity and security of our delegation.
“I took this decision. I apologise to the Israeli community. It’s nothing against them, nothing against the Jewish community, on the contrary.”
Argentina will now finalise their preparations for the trip to Russia from their Spanish base in Barcelona.
“We also apologise to those that were going to take part in an event done for peace,” Tapia added.
“There were going to be children from different religions that were going to interact with our players, it was a clear message that football is a universal sport, that transcends frontiers, that it has to be understood as a sport, where everything starts and ends on the football pitch, that it has nothing to do with violence.
“I hope and wish that from now on everyone sees the decision I have taken as an addition to world peace. I think everyone has to be aware that football is a game, that it transcends religion, sexes.
“It has to serve to give opportunity to people who have difficult lives and had a lot of enthusiasm, but today will not be able to watch their stars play.
“We leave the doors open to do some future actions whether it’s from a football standpoint or another sport in Israel or any other country.”
A statement from the Embassy of Israel in Argentina detailed some of the issues behind the decision.
“The Israeli Embassy regrets to announce the suspension of the match between the national team of Israel and Argentina scheduled for next Saturday, June 9, as a prelude to the game for the World Cup in Russia,” the statement on its Facebook page read.
“Threats and provocations directed at Lionel Messi, which logically aroused the solidarity of their peers and the fear of achieving the friendly, are not alien to the daily life of the civilian population in Israel whose athletes, without going any further, have been on numerous occasions the object of violence and attacks.
“The friendship between the Argentine Republic and the State of Israel, which is close to turning 70, is not resolved in a football match.
“The democratic country and the plural public (composed of Jews, Muslims and Christians) always look forward to receiving the main figures of Argentine sports.”
The Palestinian FA, meanwhile, had earlier backed the decision of the Argentina squad not to travel.
“The president of the Palestinian Federation of Football General Gabriel Rajoub confirmed that the Argentine Football Federation cancelled his game with Israel’s team… on the land of Jerusalem, as a result of the efforts of the Palestinians with the assistance of regional and international federations,” a statement said.
“The will of values, ethics and the message of sport had triumphed today, and the red card had been lifted in Israel’s face by cancelling this match.”
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