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Spain loves an argument, so when an international friendly for Catalonia cropped up the chance to mix politics, sport (and Gerard Pique) was too good to miss

For some time now, Spain has been a place where you can find hundreds of reasons to be outraged if you look hard and long enough. A pretty toxic political climate with a range of recurrent topics in the country’s agenda has caused public opinion to be more polarized than ever. And sport is not isolated from this.

So, when the Catalonian coach Gerard López finally came around to announcing the members of his squad for their friendly against Venezuela (the first to be played during an official FIFA national team calendar date, something those seeking independence for the region made a big fuss about), not everyone was keen to lend their players to their team.

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Take Rayo Vallecano, for example. Alberto García and Álex Moreno had been called up, but Rayo’s board forbade them to go with the reasonable point that the team is fighting for their lives in the relegation battle and any single injury and/or waste of physical energy could damage the team’s chances. Fair enough.

Things got trickier with Real Valladolid. They did announce that three team members (coach Sergio González and players Jordi Masip and Rubén Alcaraz) would be available to take part in the friendly, but the backlash amongst Valladolid fans was big.

Rather than big, huge. Politically speaking, Castilian ideology is as far from the Catalonian independence ideals as it gets. Again, the fight for remaining in LaLiga was brought up as an explanation, but the timing of the announcements made it seem more like a pretext.

A Catalonian politician named Pere Mas soon took advantage of this fact to tag Valladolid as ‘cowards’ whose ‘Catalan-ophobia’ had lead them to backtrack on their initial decision. A statement which Borja Fernández, one of Pucela’s captains, had no problem on slamming ASAP: “I was about to reply that ‘yeah, we’ll do whatever the fuck you say, asshole’, but I’ll just add that this is a purely sporting decision”. Borja’s blunt reply soon went viral.

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Banter and social media combined took over the following days while the spotlight shifted on to Xavi Hernández, former Barça captain who was adamant on playing with Catalonia until his current club (Al Sadd) shut down his hopes of taking part on it only 24 hours before the game.

Gerard Pique comes out of ‘international’ retirement

So, the game’s biggest ‘star’ became Gerard Piqué.

A couple of days earlier, criticism was aimed at Barça’s defender for retiring from Spain’s national side last summer and now agreeing to play with Catalonia. However, in Piqué’s defense, he has always proved and spoken against pitting both ideas against each other: politically speaking he’s a defender of a referendum which includes the possibility of Catalonia’s independence, but never straight up claimed he supported such independence.

In fact, Piqué became the protagonist of one of the most iconic scenes when the game was finally played on Monday night and some fans in the stands began chanting against Spain (‘¡Qué puta es España!). The defender was quick to face the people around the pitch to tell them straight away to shut up and stop with their swearing.

After the match, Piqué answered his critics after being accused of leaving Spain to play for Catalonia: “No, that’s not the case. I left because I wanted to rest and go with my family to the beach. These kind of games only require me to be here for a single day, I’ll be training with my team the following day”. He actually has a point.

Oh, shall we speak about the match? As it always happens, the event itself took a secondary seat after such a heated build-up and was nothing special. Stoke City’s Bojan Krkic scored for Catalonia, Roberto Rosales (RCD Espanyol) leveled for Venezuela and Javi Puado (Espanyol) got the closing 2-1 with five minutes to go.

Gerard López, Barça’s former midfielder who is now the coach for the Catalonian side, was “very happy” after the friendly game because “nobody got hurt and Montilivi saw a full-house attendance”. Indeed. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate political climate and everyone insisting on becoming angry for every little nitpick, these kind of matches would be awesome.

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