The highly anticipated Argentina-Uruguay soccer match, featuring superstars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, will go ahead as planned in Tel Aviv on Monday, the Argentinian team confirmed Friday after an end to fighting in Gaza.
“After the game with CBF Futebol [Brazil], the Argentine team will practice this Saturday in Riyadh and on Sunday it will fly toward Tel Aviv, Israel,” the team said in a tweet.
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 earlier this week that saw hundreds of rockets fired into Israel, including at Tel Aviv.
Also Friday, the Polish team arrived for its Euro 2020 group G qualifying soccer game Saturday against Israel.
Under the complex Euro system, Friday’s results mean that, for the first time in 20 years, Israel is assured a place in the playoffs for the tournament, which are to be held in March, irrespective of its result against Poland. If Israel were to win its playoff semi-final and then the final, it would qualify for the tournament itself.
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 team mate 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.
Both teams have been under pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Last year, Argentina called off a World Cup warm-up match against Israel due to BDS 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 head of the Palestinian Football Association launched a campaign at the time to stop Argentina from playing in Israel, calling on Arab soccer fans to burn Messi posters and jerseys if he participated in the game.
Jibril Rajoub’s campaign ultimately led to Argentina canceling the match in Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said at the time that players felt “totally attacked, violated” after images emerged of the team’s white and sky-blue striped jerseys stained with red paint resembling blood.
The 2018 cancellation led to political fallout, and to FIFA fining and slapping a 12-month ban on Rajoub for “inciting hatred and violence” against Messi.
The punishment marked an embarrassing blow for Rajoub, who has long lobbied FIFA to sanction Israel for what he has called its restriction of movement of Palestinian players.
Israel has rejected the Palestinian campaign as an attempt to politicize sports and has cited security concerns as the reason the restrictions placed on Palestinian players, particularly in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.