Netanyahu likely to attend World Cup semifinal in Moscow
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Netanyahu likely to attend World Cup semifinal in Moscow

In Russian capital on Wednesday, PM may take a break from summit with Putin to watch England play Croatia

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Hapoel Be'er Sheva soccer club ahead of their game against Budapest Honvéd FC in Budapest, Hungary on July 18, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Hapoel Be'er Sheva soccer club ahead of their game against Budapest Honvéd FC in Budapest, Hungary on July 18, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to attend Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal match between England and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Netanyahu will be in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which he is expected to discuss Israel’s demands for an end to Iran’s military presence in Syria.

Leaving Israel on Wednesday at midday and returning early on Thursday, if time allows, he will take a break from geopolitics to focus instead on the beautiful game.

“He’ll likely go to part of the game depending on what time the meeting finishes,” a PMO spokesman said.

Putin, who Netanyahu will meet for the second time in a month, has already tried to use the international FIFA soccer tournament as a possible springboard for international diplomacy, inviting dozens of world leaders to attend the competition’s final on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

The prime minister was reportedly considering attending the July 15 final game, but the idea has apparently been dropped. Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rjoub, however, announced last month that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would travel to Russia for the game and would meet with Putin to discuss “bilateral relations and the latest political developments.”

Like Putin, Netanyahu has used the World Cup as a tool to address non-sporting issues.

Showcasing his soccer skills in a video posted on social media last month, Netanyahu drew a parallel between demonstrations in Iran and the Iranian soccer team’s “impossible” feat, when it scored a 1-1 draw against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the World Cup group stages, including blocking a penalty kick by the superstar. He added that he hoped to eventually see Iran play a match against Israel.

Stopping Ronaldo is “almost impossible,” said Netanyahu, “but the Iranian team just did the impossible.”

“To the Iranian people I say: You showed courage on the playing field, and today you showed the same courage in the streets of Iran,” the prime minister said in the video.

If Netanyahu does make it to Wednesday’s game, he may be in for a tense 90 minutes.

The stakes are high for both England and Croatia, who face their first World Cup semifinal games since 1990 and 1998 respectively. If England wins, it will progress to its first final since 1966 win on home turf. For Croatia, a victory would make the squad the country’s most successful in history.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to say which team Netanyahu would be rooting for.

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