By Andrew Warshaw
June 7 – The tit-for-tat row over the cancellation of Argentina’s friendly with Israel this coming Saturday has intensified with the Israelis demanding FIFA investigate what it said were threats against Argentina players and laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Palestinian authorities.
The match was to be Argentina’s ultimate friendly before the World Cup in Russia and Palestinian football officials praised Argentina and their captain Lionel Messi for calling off the game which Israel had somewhat provocatively moved to Jerusalem from the coastal city of Haifa.
Israeli Sports Minister Miri Regev, who pushed for the game to be switched to the disputed and divided city, dismissed accusations that her demand had caused the cancellation and said Messi, his teammates and his family had been threatened by “terror elements”.
“The decision behind the cancellation is because of one reason only, the threats by terror elements sent to Messi, his family and to other players in the Argentina team,” Regev said.
Argentine FA chief Claudio Tapia admitted there were “threats” but gave no details.
Not surprisingly the Israel Football Association (IFA) were incandescent, accusing the Palestinians of crossing a “red line” by inciting anger towards the Argentinian players in order to scupper the match.
“(Rajoub’s) aim was to harm our country through soccer,” said IFA chairman Ofer Eini who not so long ago sat round the table with Rajoub and FIFA officials trying to find a solution to the volatile impasse in the region.
“There is an issue of personal threats against players. If a politician publicly calls to burn a shirt, somebody could take it a step further. I don’t think that the people who run world soccer can ignore this.”
The Palestinians accused Israel of moving the match to Jerusalem to underpin Israel’s claim to the city and insist they would have had no issue if it had been played in Haifa.
“The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track,” Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
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