The decision to accept a friendly against Israel in Jerusalem was always questionable but only three days before Argentina were due to play their final World Cup warm-up game, Jorge Sampaoli’s side have pulled out and been left without an opponent before flying to Russia.
Amid widespread demonstrations from Palestinian and human rights groups, the Argentina squad decided not to travel and will instead fly directly to Russia from their camp in Barcelona.
The 4-0 win over Haiti, played at a walking pace in La Bombonera, will be Argentina’s only competitive match prior to stepping out against Iceland in their World Cup opener on June 16th.
After the news broke on Tuesday evening that the game wouldn’t be going ahead, AFA president Claudio Tapia faced the press on Wednesday morning.
“We have made the decision not to travel to play Israel and apologize to all the Argentinians who are part of the Israeli community, the Israelis who bought tickets and to the kids who were going to take part in some of the things planned to promote peace,” Tapia told the media in Barcelona.
“Football has to be understood as a sport that starts and ends on the pitch, it has nothing to do with violence.
“Those who think and treat us as ignorant, underestimate us. What happened over the last 72 hours, the actions and threats that have been made have led us to the decision not to travel.
“My responsibility as AFA president is to worry about the safety of the entire delegation. That is why I made this decision. I hope this is taken as a contribution towards world peace.”
Despite Israel’s efforts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling his Argentinian counterpart Mauricio Macri and Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman saying it was “too bad” Argentina’s footballers did not “withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters”, few will argue against Argentina’s decision.
Striker Gonzalo Higuaín was one of the players to explain the decision on Tuesday: “I think that in the end the right thing was done. It’s now behind us, obviously our health and common sense comes first, we think the right thing to do was not to go.”
However, it has left Argentina’s World Cup preparations slightly hindered as a last minute scramble for a friendly opponent in Barcelona threw up the likes of Malta and San Marino before it was decided that the Albiceleste would fly straight to Russia at the weekend.
Jorge Sampaoli had already expressed his concerns over the AFA’s decision to take the lucrative match in Jerusalem as part of the preperation and will be relieved to continue working with the squad in Spain.
But Haiti provided little opposition and so any tactical tweaks ahead of Iceland will now be done solely on the training field.