After Israel wishes World Cup team luck, Saudi fans imagine playing Jewish state
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After Israel wishes World Cup team luck, Saudi fans imagine playing Jewish state

As soccer tournament opens, kingdom’s supporters tell Israeli reporter that politics should stay out of sports

Supporters of Saudi Arabia's national football team pose as they watch the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the fan zone near the main building of the Moscow State University in Moscow on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Maxim Zmeyev)
Supporters of Saudi Arabia's national football team pose as they watch the Russia 2018 World Cup Group A football match between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the fan zone near the main building of the Moscow State University in Moscow on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Maxim Zmeyev)

With spirits high as their national team kicked off the World Cup in Russia Thursday, Saudi Arabian soccer fans said they would be open to the prospect of playing against Israel in the future, as Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman wished the gulf kingdom luck in the international soccer tournament.

Ahead of the first game in the three-week long competition, between hosts Russia and long shots Saudi Arabia, supporters who had traveled from the desert country to the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow said that politics should stay out of sports.

Speaking to an Israeli Hadashot TV news correspondent at the game, several fans said they would be happy to see their team play the Jewish state,

“Why not?” said one Saudi fan draped in his country’s green flag, when asked if he could ever imagine such a match taking place. “This is sport, there is no connection to politics.”

Saudi fans at the 2018 World Cup in Russia speak to a Hadashot news correspondent on June 14, 2018 (Hadashot screenshot)

Another said that the Saudi people “wish for relations between the two countries to be good and that they could live in peace and security, and that we could be brothers. We are neighbors, after all.”

Saudi fans at the 2018 World Cup in Russia speak to a Hadashot news correspondent on June 14, 2018 (Hadashot screenshot)

He added: “Peace is what we are most interested in.”

The chummy atmosphere came hours after Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon threw his support behind neighbors Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a tweet.

He later tweeted that the Foreign Ministry “congratulates all teams playing in #2018WorldCup,” specifically mentioning openers Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The Saudi fan’s pre-game merriment, however, may have suffered a blow when Saudi Arabia was then crushed 5-0 by Russia in a game easily won by the confident hosts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a Russian National Day reception in Jerusalem, said he had watched parts of the game, “but I am a diplomat, so I cannot take sides.”

“May the best team win at the end,” he said of the tournament.

The calls to keep politics out of sport come after the Argentinian team pulled out of a highly anticipated friendly soccer match against Israel last week under Palestinian pressure and threats to the players after the match was moved from Haifa to Jerusalem.

Despite the decision, Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires said Thursday that it will still be rooting for Argentina at the World Cup.

“In this World Cup, from the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, have no doubt that we’ll be encouraging the blue and whites!” a video clip posted to YouTube by the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires cheered.

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