Argentina's warm-up for the forthcoming World Cup has come to an earlier than expected end, as the Argentine players were apparently unwilling to go ahead with their friendly against Israel.
Argentina were due to play the Israeli national team on June 9, but pulled out due to political pressure.
BREAKING: We welcome news that @Argentina's "friendly" football match with Israel has been canceled! The team responded to creative campaigning from fans around the world denouncing Israel’s sports-washing of its crimes against Palestinians. @FIFAcom: Take note! #NothingFriendly pic.twitter.com/9ZdFYy32ke
— PACBI (@PACBI) June 5, 2018
While neither football association has confirmed the cancellation, the issue has been batted between political figures in the past few days. The squad was "not willing to play the game" according to Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, while Israel's defence minister Avigdor Lieberman was as measured in his response as one might imagine, saying "we will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters."
The head of the Palestinian football association told a press conference on Wednesday that the world had given Israel a "red card" with the cancellation, having urged Lionel Messi not to partake in the game while calling on Arab and Muslim sports fans to burn their Messi jerseys.
“Messi. Don’t come. Don’t whitewash the face of racism,” Jibril Rajoub said after a demonstration in front of the Argentinian representative office in Ramallah.
The game was initially due to be played in Haifa, but had been moved to a stadium in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Malha, the site of a former Palestinian village destroyed during the war that established Israel 70 years ago.
Israel has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, after at least 120 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during protests in Gaza. Thousands more are believed to have been injured during the incident.
Gonzalo Higuain confirmed the cancellation of the fixture in an interview with ESPN, saying that "the right thing" had been done. He added: "Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn't right to go."
Argentina's football team were praised by the campaign group Avaaz for making a "brave ethical decision."