Israeli Defense Minister Blames Messi Penalty Miss on Nixed Game in Jerusalem

Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, reacts after missing to score during the group D match between Argentina and Iceland at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Victor Caivano)
AP/Victor Caivano

TEL AVIV – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday mocked soccer player Lionel Messi for missing a crucial World Cup penalty, saying it was the result of Argentina’s last minute withdrawal from a warm-up game in Israel.

“In the Argentina against Iceland game we saw just how much Messi needed the warm-up game against Israel,” Liberman tweeted after Messi missed a penalty resulting in a 1-1 draw against Iceland.

The Argentine player’s 64th-minute penalty was stopped by Iceland’s goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson.

“Well done to the Iceland team, a small country with 350,000 residents and a great team,” Liberman added.

After an intense Palestinian campaign which included death threats against some of the soccer team’s players, Argentina cancelled its final pre-World Cup warm up game with Israel.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi also linked the miss to the withdrawal from the Israel game, tweeting a poll asking, “Who was happier that Messi missed his penalty today?”

The options presented in the poll were Portuguese star and Messi nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo or Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was accused of politicizing the friendly game in Israel by moving it from Haifa to Jerusalem.

Regev’s move was seen as a contentious following the recent controversy surrounding the city with President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing it as Israel’s capital and the subsequent opening of the U.S. embassy there.

“The Argentinians did not object to having the game in Jerusalem,” said Regev.

“Threats to Lionel Messi’s life overwhelmed the sport. … It’s terror.”

Earlier in the month, Liberman said the intense Palestinian campaign to get the game cancelled, which included images of the Argentinian team’s jersey stained with red paint to symbolize Palestinian blood, was led by a “pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”

“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 Liberman. “We will not yield before a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters.”

Argentina is slated to play Croatia on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod, while Iceland will play against Nigeria on Friday in Volgograd.

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