Lionel Messi in 2007

After numerous threats on the life of Argentinian soccer megastar Lionel Messi, the Argentinian national soccer team has cancelled a friendly match scheduled to take place with the Israeli national team in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

The Israeli Embassy in Argentina confirmed the cancellation, and said the decision was made following death threats against the Argentinian players.

“The threats and provocations directed at Lionel Messi, which logically aroused the solidarity of his colleagues and fear of playing the friendly, are no strangers to the daily life of Israel’s civilian population whose sporting stars, to put it simply, have been on numerous occasions the targets of violence and attacks,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie confirmed the threats, saying the players and the coach wanted to cancel the game, having been influenced by viral social media campaigns, threats, and bloodied Argentinian team shirts used during protests.

The match was scheduled to be played at Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium. Excitement over the last game before the World Cup led to tickets being sold out within 20 minutes.

According to reports, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev was informed that from the moment the game was first announced, terror organizations began sending explicit threats to the players and their families, including images and videos of children’s dead bodies.

Palestinian Football Association Chairman Jibril Rajoub issued a statement celebrating the cancellation, claiming, “values, morals and sport have secured a victory today and a red card was raised at Israel through the cancellation of the game.”

On Sunday, Rajoub called for Palestinians to boycott the Argentinian team and burn all Messi memorabilia if the team came to play in Jerusalem.

“I congratulate the Palestinians on the great sportive victory and on the serious blow to the occupation,” Abdel-Salem Haniyeh of the Palestinian Higher Council of Sport posted on Facebook. “We thank all the liberals among the sports people and all those who stood by our side in the demand to cancel the game between Argentina and the occupation in Jerusalem.”

The BDS movement issued a statement welcoming the cancellation, saying it was scrapped because “the team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman wrote on Twitter, “It is a shame that the soccer greats from Argentina gave in to the pressure of the anti-Israel instigators, whose only goal was to violate our basic right to self-defense and lead to Israel’s destruction. We won’t give in to a group of terror-supporting anti-Semites.”

Israel national football team coach Alon Hazan expressed his disappointment on Wednesday.

“With all due respect to Messi, if the match is canceled because it was supposed to take place in Jerusalem, I wish him and Argentina the best of luck,” Hazan said.  “As an Israeli and a Jew, Jerusalem is far more important to me than Messi and Argentina.”

“Messi is the greatest of his generation,” he said. “But Jerusalem is forever.”


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