Argentina’s national team and its superstar captain, Lionel Messi, arrived in Israel on Sunday evening ahead of Monday’s highly anticipated game against Uruguay and its star player Luis Suarez.
When not playing for their respective national teams, both Messi and Suarez play together for Spanish club FC Barcelona.
The two teams are slated to compete in an exhibition match at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium.
A live webcast showed the team disembarking from their flight at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv, and boarding a team bus on the tarmac, without speaking to cameramen.
Messi was last in Israel in 2013 when Barcelona FC took a break from its pre-season training and touched down in the holy land for a two-day “peace tour” with Israeli and Palestinian kids. A planned visit last year that was to feature a friendly soccer match against Israel was canceled, due to Palestinian pressure and threats to Argentina’s national team. Argentina had been scheduled to play Israel in June 2018 in Jerusalem just before the World Cup in Russia.
The 2018 cancellation led to political fallout, and to FIFA fining and slapping a 12-month ban on Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub for “inciting hatred and violence” against Messi.
This year, both Argentina and Uruguay were also under pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
WATCH! Leo Messi has landed in Israel ???????? with the Argentina National Team ahead of their friendly on Monday night against Uruguay! pic.twitter.com/xAmDGQu1wj
— Israel Sports Rabbi (@thesportsrabbi) November 17, 2019
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in a friendly in Saudi Arabia on Friday, with Messi grabbing the winner.
The friendly match against Uruguay had been in doubt due to the 48 hours of intense fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group last week that saw hundreds of rockets fired into Israel, including at Tel Aviv.
Israel would have had a lot to lose from the cancellation of the Argentina-Uruguay match, planned for Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield stadium.
It is possibly the highest-level game ever to be played on Israeli soil, and it features Messi, a player widely regarded to be the world’s best, against his Barcelona teammate Suarez.
All the tickets to the match, about 30,000, sold out in lightning speed when they went on sale, and a cancellation would have disappointed many fans and cause immense financial losses for all involved.
It would also have been a geopolitical blow to Israel, which would lose the prestige of hosting such a high-profile match and lose out on hosting Messi for the second time in as many years.
Agencies contributed to this report.