Despite rumors, Argentina still coming to Israel for soccer friendly

Israel will host Argentina in its final World Cup warm-up match on June 9 as planned, Argentina Football Association chairman Claudio Tapia confirmed on Wednesday during an event held in honor of Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

Reports in the Argentinean media earlier this week had raised the possibility that the friendly may be moved to Spain due to the bloodshed on the Gaza border on Monday and the boycott campaign that was already being waged against the upcoming game in Israel.

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The campaign is being sponsored by BDS Argentina, which is using the motto “Argentina don’t go” to Israel, or #ArgentinaNoVayas.

BDS stands for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Argentina national team coach Jorge Sampaoli had also voiced his concerns regarding the game in Israel, believing the long journey such a short time before the start of the World Cup in Russia will hurt his team’s preparations.

However, Tapia said on Wednesday that the match will go ahead as scheduled, with the likely venue to be Haifa Stadium.

Argentinean National Secretary of Sports and the Argentine Football Association, or AFA, had received a letter last month signed by the Argentinean Committee of Solidarity with Palestine asking for the cancellation of the match that will take place one week before Argentina opens its World Cup campaign against Iceland.

The letter said that the cancellation of that friendly match “should represent the solidarity of values of the Argentine people towards other peoples who are victims of oppression, apartheid and genocide.”

Lionel Messi’s Argentina, beaten by Germany in the last World Cup final and still awaiting its first title since 1986, will face Croatia and Nigeria, as well as Iceland, in the group stage.

Argentina visited Israel prior to the 1986 World cup, claiming a 7-2 win in a friendly against the blueand- white. The Argentineans subsequently also came to the Holy Land ahead of the World Cups in 1990, 1994 and 1998, which was the team’s last visit to Israel.

Sampaoli named his 35-man long list for the World Cup earlier this week, including recovering Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori and Racing Club’s exciting young duo Lautaro Martinez and Ricardo Centurion.

There were also places for uncapped Sporting Lisbon midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia and River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani.

The list, which must be trimmed to 23 by June 4, included Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, as well as Manchester United pair Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo.

Argentina hasn’t not won a major international title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and has performed inconsistently since losing to Germany in the World Cup final four years ago.

Although it reached the finals of the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, is lost both times and current coach Sampaoli is the team’s third in four years.