Argentina's decision to cancel a football friendly at Jerusalem's Teddy Kollek Stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup has infuriated fans and politicians in Israel.
The match - scheduled to be played on Saturday - was sold out with fans eager to watch iconic players from Argentina display their skills on the football field. Messi, quite obviously, was a major draw for enthusiasts. Around the same time though, there was an intense Palestinian campaign urging Argentina to cancel the match in a country which, according to Palestinians, repeatedly commits human rights violations and targets innocents. An image of Argentina's national football jersey in red paint - symbolic of blood - quickly went viral.
When reports that the football team could cancel the match surfaced, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu contacted Argentine President Mauricio Macri and asked him to step in. He didn't.
Moments after it was officially announced that the Argentine team would not be coming, there was dismay and then absolute outburst. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was quoted by Associated Press as saying that while the decision was unfortunate for fans, there was a deeper political implication. "There are values that are greater than even Messi. The politicisation of the Argentinean move worries me greatly,” he said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman too tore into the iconic players of Argentina for caving to baseless pressure. "It's unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel," he was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders - while condemning the pullout, also blamed the country's sports minister of needlessly trying to seek photo ops with Argentine players and therefore shift the match from Haifa to Jerusalem.
Over in Palestine, many called it a historic decision and one that would highlight their plight at the hands of 'oppressors' on a global stage.
Argentina says NO to ?Israel?
— namaewaida???????? (@idajkt75) June 6, 2018
Officials over in Argentina have said that the players themselves were not too keen to travel and play in Israel which is what led to the eventual decision. "As far as I know, the players of the national team were not willing to play the game," said Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie.