Catalonia

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Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

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Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Catalonia beats Venezuela 2-1 in friendly in Spain

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GIRONA, Spain (AP) Venezuela followed its win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina by losing to Catalonia 2-1 in a friendly on Monday.

Javi Puado scored in the 88th minute to give the hosts the win at Girona’s Montilivi Stadium. Bojan Krkic opened the scoring in the 53rd and Venezuela equalized through Roberto Rosales in the 59th.

Catalonia was led by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who retired from Spain’s national team after the World Cup last year. He nearly scored with a curling free kick that struck the crossbar in the first half.

Venezuela earned a convincing 3-1 win over Argentina in Madrid on Friday, but after the game Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit to the squad.

Dudamel, who was on the bench on Monday, said his future would depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials.

Catalonia, the region which recently was in the middle of a heated independence dispute with Spain, was missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them to avoid the risk of injures ahead of the final period of the Spanish league.

Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations, but clubs are not obligated to release players to the region.

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The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Report: Guardiola to accept FA yellow ribbon charge

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Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has reportedly accepted his Football Association charge for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of his home state of Catalonia’s fight for independence.

Some Catalan believers have been imprisoned for protesting Spain’s refusal to hold a Catalan independence vote, and the yellow ribbon is viewed as solidarity with the prisoners.

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Guardiola previously said he will continue to wear the ribbon regardless of the FA — “They can suspend me for doing that but the other people are in jail” —  and the report says he’s been wearing it under his coat but did not in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Chelsea.

As for the change of heart, Sky Sports says Man City’s “position is that by accepting the charge, Guardiola is not apologising for wearing the ribbon, but instead observing the rules of the FA.”

Like UEFA’s problem with the poppy for Remembrance Day, this one just seems so odd.

Barcelona’s Valverde says players not distracted by crisis

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PIRAEUS, Greece (AP) Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde insists his players have not been distracted by the events taking place in Catalonia.

Speaking ahead of the team’s Champions League match against Olympiakos, Valverde says, “We can see what’s happening but we are concentrated on our own task. That’s to win matches and make the fans happy.”

[ MORE: Girona upsets Real Madrid ]

Lawmakers in Catalonia’s parliament declared independence from Spain last week following a disputed referendum that triggered a constitutional crisis. Some Barcelona fans have been vocal in their support for independence during matches.

Barcelona is playing the Greek champion at Karaiskakis Stadium on Tuesday. Valverde received an emotional welcome from fans of his former team. He says it will be a “special game” for him.