Soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona will hold a preseason game in Israel against Beitar Jerusalem over the summer.
The match is set to take place in Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on August 4, a day after the team lands in the country.
Beitar, one of Israel’s top soccer clubs, finished third in the premier league in the 2019-2020 season.
The Jerusalem Municipality will host the match and the team is expected to visit holy sites in the city, Hebrew-language media reports said. Incoming president Isaac Herzog, who will enter office in July, may meet with the Spanish team during their visit, media reports said.
In May, before the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli military and Hamas terror group, the Spanish team was in talks to play in Israel. But the hostilities — which ended with a ceasefire on May 21 — were said to have caused some reluctance within the club over travel to Israel at the time.
If the August 4 game materializes, it will be the first time Barcelona plays a preseason game in the country.
The team, led by Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, in 2013 played a friendly match in Jaffa before a crowd of young Israelis as part of a two-day “peace tour.”
Messi also traveled to Israel in 2019 for a friendly match between the Argentinian and Uruguayan national teams, which saw him square off against his then-Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez.
That game was also put in doubt due to fighting the week before the match between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-largest terror group in Gaza after the Strip’s Hamas rulers.
The year before, Argentina and Messi were scheduled to play the Israeli national team in Jerusalem before traveling to Russia for the World Cup, but the squad canceled the trip on short notice after intense pressure from Palestinian officials and activists.
Beitar is one of the country’s most storied franchises, winning 13 trophies and counting Israeli presidents and prime ministers among its fans. But it also has drawn negative attention for being the only major club never to have an Arab player. Israel’s Arab minority makes up roughly 20% of the population, and Arab players star on rival teams and the country’s national squad.
Club officials have in the past said their hands were tied by a hardcore base of far-right fans who wield significant clout over personnel decisions. A small group of fans, known as La Familia, has been known to whoop like monkeys when an opposing team’s player from Africa would touch the ball and chant “death to Arabs” toward opposing Arab players.