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Argentina cancel final World Cup warmup against Israel - Higuain

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina have cancelled their final World Cup warmup match against Israel scheduled for this Saturday in Jerusalem, striker Gonzalo Higuain said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - International Friendly - Argentina vs Haiti - La Bombonera, Buenos Aires, Argentina - May 29, 2018 Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain in action REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

“They’ve finally done the right thing,” Higuain said in an interview with ESPN, confirming reports the game had been canceled following political pressure.

The match in Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek Stadium was to be Argentina’s final game before they kick off their World Cup campaign in Russia on June 16.

The match against Israel had drawn criticism with the head of the Palestinian Football Association urging fans last weekend to burn pictures of Argentina striker Lionel Messi and replicas of his shirt if he played in the game.

Palestinian FA chief Jibril Rajoub wrote to Claudio Tapia, the head of the Argentinian FA, last week accusing Israel of using the match as a “political tool”.

The stadium that was due to host the match is in west Jerusalem. The Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state that will include the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

However, the status of the city generally is highly sensitive. The match was originally slated to be played in Haifa but Israeli authorities contributed funding for it to be moved to Jerusalem, irking Palestinians further following U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians hailed the cancellation as a victory.

“I congratulate Palestine at such a great sport victory and the tough blow to the occupation,” Abdel-Salam Haniyeh, member of the Palestinian higher council of youth and sport, wrote on his facebook page after news of the cancellation broke.

“We thank all liberals among sport people and all those who stood by us to demand the cancellation of the match between Argentina and the occupation in Jerusalem.”

The cancellation is just one more obstacle for Argentina, who were beaten finalists at the World Cup in Brazil four years ago.

Argentina’s preparations have been troubled this time around.

They suffered a heavy defeat to Spain in a friendly and lost their first-choice goalkeeper to injury, giving little encouragement to fans who watched the team struggle to qualify for the tournament in Russia.

The two-times World Cup winners face Iceland, Nigeria and Croatia in what is considered to be one of the hardest groups in the tournament.

Writing by Andrew Downie, reporting by Ramiro Scandalo. Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Nidal al-Mughrabi. Editing by Toby Davis