Gerard Piqué

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Pique booed relentlessly by Spanish fans in win

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Spare a thought for Gerard Pique.

Barcelona’s outspoken center back has spoken up for Catalan independence in Spain, and backed Catalonia after police confronted hopeful voters this weekend.

That led to his offering to withdraw from Spanish national team duty, and his being booed by fans at a training session.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

That continued Friday, when Pique should’ve been enjoying Spain clinching a World Cup berth with a controlling 3-0 win over visiting and desperate Albania.

Pique was booed or whistled nearly every time he touched the ball.

To add insult, there were myriad reports Friday that Pique and longtime partner Shakira were splitting up (though these stories are not unusual and have been refuted).

Barcelona’s Pique jeered at Spain training

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Gerard Pique is feeling the heat from Madrid-based soccer fans.

The Barcelona defender, who voted in Sunday’s Catalonian independence referendum and has on numerous occasions declared his support for an independent Catalonian state, took the field with the Spanish National Team in Madrid on Monday and was roundly jeered and booed by the fans in attendance.

Many fans brought signs with phrases against Pique and he was whistled when he walked on and off the field. The training session lasted just 23 minutes.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Pique was in tears after Barcelona’s win on Sunday over Las Palmas, which was played in front of an empty Camp Nou stadium.

“I think I can continue. But if the board really thinks I’m a problem, I will take a step back and leave the national team before 2018,” Pique reportedly said after the game. “There are many people in Spain who disagree with what happened today and believe in democracy. The board tried to suspend the match, but it wasn’t possible. We debated it and the club decided we should play. I am and I feel Catalan, today more than ever. I am proud of the behavior of the people of Catalonia. Voting is a right that must be defended.”

It’s still up in the air over whether the former Manchester United defender will start for Spain in its upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Spain faces Albania on Friday in Alicante, a little more than five hours south of Barcelona.

From there, Spain finishes the first stage of World Cup qualifying on October 9 against Israel in Jerusalem.

Lopetegui defends Pique from questions of loyalty to Spain

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Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has defended Gerard Pique from critics who question his loyalty to the national team because of his support for a disputed referendum on Catalan independence.

“Gerard gives it his all each and every time he plays with us,” Lopetegui said Friday. “I judge players’ commitment to the national team by their behavior. That is where I put my focus and in that sense I have no doubts about Pique.”

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Pique posted a message on social media on Thursday calling for people in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia to participate peacefully in Sunday’s vote that police have been ordered by courts to stop.

“From today until Sunday we will express ourselves pacifically,” Pique tweeted. “Don’t give them any excuse (for a crackdown). That’s what they want. And sing loud and clear.”

Pique has been jeered by Spain fans during home matches in recent years both for his jibes at Barcelona club rival Real Madrid and his support of the push for a secession referendum in Catalonia.

Spain captain Sergio Ramos, a Real Madrid defender, said Thursday that “Pique’s tweet isn’t the best thing to do if he doesn’t want people to jeer him.”

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The 30-year-old Pique has made 91 appearances for Spain, helping it win the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship. He and Ramos form its pair of central defenders.

As expected on Friday, Lopetegui included Pique in Spain’s squad for its final two qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. Spain hosts Albania on Oct. 6 in the southern city of Alicante. It then visits Israel three days later.

Barcelona is the capital of prosperous Catalonia, where a separatist-led regional government vows to hold the vote on independence from the rest of Spain despite its suspension by the Constitutional Court.

Spain’s constitution says that only the nation’s government can call a referendum on sovereignty. Police forces acting on judges’ orders have seized ballots and arrested regional officials, sparking protests in the streets and universities.

Messi bags hat trick, Dembele debuts as Barca rout Espanyol (video)

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi scored a hat trick and Ousmane Dembele set up a goal in his debut for Barcelona in a comfortable 5-0 win over crosstown rival Espanyol on Saturday.

Messi struck twice in the first half, and leads the Spanish league with five goals. Gerard Pique headed in a fourth goal.

After going on as a second-half substitute, Dembele didn’t take long to help his team when he passed for Luis Suarez to round off the rout in the 90th.

A third win in as many rounds left Barcelona atop of the standings, with two more points than second-place Sevilla and four more points than defending champion Real Madrid in sixth.

Messi opened the scoring at Camp Nou when he received a pass from Ivan Rakitic in what appeared to be an offside position. With no call coming from the referee, Messi dribbled around a defender and fired home.

“They told me that the first goal could be offside, (…) but we did a lot to create several chances,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

He got his second by sliding to redirect Jordi Alba’s pass by goalkeeper Pau Lopez. Messi started the attack but lost the ball, only for it to take two deflections off defenders before falling to Alba in the area.

After Espanyol forward Pablo Piatti hit the post, Messi made it a treble with a left-footed strike to slot in another pass from Alba.

Dembele went on moments later to a round of applause from his new supporters. Barcelona paid a club-record sum to Borussia Dortmund for the 20-year-old France forward. With add-ons, his transfer could reach $173 million.

Dembele showed his speed when he raced down the right side on a quick counterattack and crossed for Suarez to score.

Suarez was making his league debut this season after missing the first two matches with a leg injury.

Barcelona top Real Madrid, 3-2, in Miami’s El Clasico (video)

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Round 1 of the 2017-18 El Clasico rivalry favored Barcelona, courtesy of goals scored by Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Pique, who knocked off Real Madrid in the two sides’ preseason friendly in Miami, Fla., on Saturday.

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Messi opened the scoring with fewer than three minutes on the clock, finishing a quick counter-attack down the right side of the box with a quick cut inside and a fortuitous deflection.

Just as quickly as Messi made it 1-0, Rakitic made it 2-0, in the 7th minute. Luis Suarez touched Neymar’s cross past himself to the waiting Croatian, whose first-time, perfectly placed shot beat Keylor Navas with ease.

[ MORE: Pique says Neymar “does not know what to do” ]

Seven minutes later, Mateo Kovacic pulled Madrid back to within a goal. The 23-year-old Croatian slalomed past three defenders 25 yards out, squared himself to the goal and fired past Jasper Cillessen, who had no chance at making the save.

Nine minutes before halftime, Marco Asensio drew Madrid back onto level terms with a confident finish to complete a lightning-quick, three-on-two counter. Karim Benzema played the decoy as Asensio and Kovacic played the ball back and forth before Asensio slammed it home with Cillessen sent to his right and the shot to his left.

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Barca’s winner came five minutes into the second half, when Neymar’s free kick found a completely unmarked Pique at the top of the six-yard box. The finish was textbook as the 10,000 times he’s done it in training, and that was that — a 3-2 victory for Barca in the first “Clasico” played on foreign soil in 35 years.