Thousands rush for tickets as Messi set to hit Jerusalem

Tickets for an Israel-Argentina friendly in Jerusalem next month with Barcelona star Lionel Messi expected in the line-up sold out within 20 minutes, the Israeli company handling sales said, AFP reports.

The Le’an agency said on its website that nearly 100,000 fans applied for 20,000 tickets when they went on general sale on Sunday evening.

“No sporting event has ever caused such hysteria in Israel,” it wrote.

Prices ranged from 44 shekels (about $12) for children and soldiers to 825 shekels in the VIP area.

Another 5,000 places went to supporters of the Israeli national team in a pre-sale reserved for them and over 4,000 tickets were to be distributed to children from needy families.

The game will take place on June 9 at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem which has a capacity of 31,733 seats.

On social media networks, tickets were being resold for up to 4,500 shekels on Monday.

Argentina will play against Haiti on May 29 and then Israel just one week before their first match in the World Cup against Iceland on June 16 in Moscow.

In Group D, Messi’s men will face Croatia on June 21 and Nigeria on June 26.

Israel finished fourth in Group 7 in qualifying for the World Cup, behind Spain, Italy and Albania.

They last qualified in 1970.

In the past, Argentina have played Israel several times in friendly matches, usually before the World Cup, suffering a 1-2 defeat in 1998 but crushing the Israelis 7-2 in 1990 with Maradona at the helm.

The June 9 game will start after dark so that observant Jews can reach the stadium or watch it on TV without violating their Sabbath, which runs from dusk on Friday to sunset Saturday.

During the weekly day of rest the Jewish faith forbids travelling by motorised transport and the use of electricity.

Meanwhile,  Messi is so desperate to win the World Cup with Argentina that he would trade success with Barcelona to triumph in Russia this summer, Soccernet reports.

Messi, 30, has been on the losing side in four finals with Argentina, including the World Cup final in 2014 against Germany in Brazil.

Titles with Barca have not been so hard to come by – Messi has won 32 trophies since making his first-team debut, including a domestic double this season.

However, he says he would be willing to forgo another title with the Catalan club if it meant he could finally get his hands on the World Cup trophy.

“Winning the World Cup is a huge personal challenge for me, for the group [of players Argentina have] and for the country, who have the same dreams as us,” he told El Trece. “It’s a nice responsibility to represent a whole country at a World Cup.

“I would swap a title with Barcelona for one with the national team. While I want to win things again with my club, I want to win something with the national team.

“I know it would be special for what it means, to be (world) champions with Argentina would be different to everything, it would be something unique.”

Since an extra-time defeat to Germany four years in the World Cup final, Argentina have lost two Copa America finals, too, both times on penalties against Chile.

The Albiceleste struggled to hit the heights which carried them to three successive finals in qualifying for this summer’s World Cup, though, needing a Messi hat trick to beat Ecuador as they booked their place in Russia in their final match.

Their poor performance in qualifying, coupled with a 6-1 defeat to Spain in March, mean they are not among the outright favourites going into the finals.

“We have a really complicated draw,” Messi added. “Iceland showed they can compete with anyone at the (Euro 2016), Croatia have a great midfield and it’s always tough for us against Nigeria.

“I have a lot of faith in this group, though. We’re working well, we have players with ability and experience, but we have to take things slowly. We don’t want to send the message ‘We’re going to win the World Cup because we’re the best…’ because the reality is we aren’t.

“There are various favourites at the moment. Brazil are one. Spain, Germany… they’re some of the best teams right now.”

Messi, who joined Barca as a 13-year-old, would have already won a World Cup if he defected to Spain as a teenager.

“A friend of mine told me that I’d now be a world champion already if I’d played for Spain, but it wouldn’t have been the same,” he said.

“Being a champion with Argentina would be something unique. I was 16 years old and, half in jest and half serious, the coach of the Under-17s put it to me (playing for Spain).

“It happened in Finland and Cesc (Fabregas)  was my teammate at the time. That’s where it all stems from, but at no time did the thought or any doubts cross my mind.”





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