Argentina sparked outrage after abruptly canceling a World Cup warmup against Israel following pressure from pro-Palestinian groups.
Israel was set to host Argentina at the sold out Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem on Saturday, which would see popular players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero play as they prepare for the upcoming soccer tournament.
However, pro-Palestinian groups accused Messi and his teammates of caving to terrorism. A campaign against the team featured Argentina’s jersey stained with red paint and threats to burn Messi posters.
“In the end, they’ve done right thing, and this is behind us,” Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain told ESPN. “Health and common sense come first. We felt that it wasn’t right to go.”
Though Argentinian players looked to put the controversy behind them, the furor over the cancelation swept through Israel.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Argentinian President Mauricio Macri to try and get the soccer team to reconsider their decision, according to The Times of Israel. However, Macri reportedly told Netanyahu that he had no control over the team’s decision.
“It’s unfortunate the soccer knights of Argentina did not withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters, whose only goal is to harm our basic right to self-defense and bring about the destruction of Israel,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”
Israeli officials accused the nation’s sports minister Miri Regev of politicizing the match by moving it from Haifa to Jerusalem and by trying to arrange a politicized photo op with Messi. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called the snub a “spectacular own goal” by Revev.
Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian football association, had called on Arab fans to burn Messi posters if he participated in the match. He celebrated Argentina’s move at a press conference by reading a fan’s sign that said: “From Palestine, thank you Messi.”
Argentina will begin its quest for a World Cup title against Iceland on June 16.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.