La Liga Chases Asian Cash With Early Clasico kick-off

For the first time, Spanish football’s showpiece event, El Clasico between giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, has been scheduled for a lunchtime kick-off (1200GMT) on Saturday as La Liga seeks to capture Asia’s attention and its cash.

“We are keen to provide our fans in Asia the opportunity to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona face off at a time that is convenient to them,” La Liga’s Chief Communications Officer Joris Evers told AFP.

With a potential television audience of 650 million people, according to La Liga, El Clasico is the most watched club match around the world thanks to its unique mixture of star protagonists and a fierce rivalry fostered over decades both on the field and off it by the distinct cultural differences between Catalonia and Madrid.

“It is the ideal shop window, the marquee match to show to people Spanish football,” Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, professor of economics at Barcelona University and an expert in Spanish football finances, said to AFP.

However, it is not just a boom in lucrative television rights that La Liga and its two biggest clubs are seeking with an early start this weekend, but a showcase for all of their lucrative sponsorship contracts.

Last year Barcelona signed a club record shirt sponsorship deal worth a minimum of 220 million euros ($258 million) over four years with Japanese online retailer Rakuten.

“They want to sell their products to international markets, above all in Asia,” added Gay de Liebana.

According to a study carried out by consumer analytics specialists Nielsen Sports, last season’s corresponding first La Liga Clasico of the season generated more than $42.5 million in media value for sponsors.

“The kick-off of the next El Clasico on December 23 is at 1300 Madrid time, 2000 in Shanghai, 1900 in Jakarta and 1730 in New Delhi,” continued Evers.

“These are all locations where we know there are many La Liga fans and where we will be hosting events to celebrate El Clasico.

“Additional events are being held in various locations around Asia. Through this and other initiatives we want to make existing fans even bigger La Liga supporters and, of course, we want to attract new supporters as well.”

– La Liga lagging behind –

Such events are a sign of La Liga’s awareness of how the Spanish top flight lags behind England’s cash rich Premier League in the battle for Asian based fans.

The Premier League’s estimated $3.9 billion income from domestic and international TV rights a season dwarfs La Liga’s $1.9 billion revenue.

Moreover, whilst Asia is the Premier League’s biggest international market, it trails behind the Americas and the rest of Europe in La Liga’s rights deals.

“We have changed kick-off schedules so that they can be seen at reasonable times here in Asia and we will continue to take steps to ensure that this part of the world can enjoy La Liga as much as possible,” La Liga president Javier Tebas said at the opening of the league’s new Singapore office earlier this year, just one of a series of new La Liga bases across the world.

Tebas is acutely aware that Spain’s privileged position at the top of the European game is coming under threat from the Premier League’s economic power.

He has repeatedly warned the Premier League could become the NBA of European football, capable of poaching Barca and Madrid’s stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same way Barca were powerless to stop Qatar-backed Paris Saint Germain paying a world record 222 million euros for Neymar in August.

Madrid and Barca have combined to win the Champions League in seven of the past 12 years. However, for the first time ever England will have five of the last 16 of the competition in 2018.

However, Gay de Liebana believes La Liga’s focus shouldn’t rest solely on Asia, but take advantage of the cultural and linguistic advantages they have in Latin American markets, from where many of its current stars like Messi and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez hail.

“They have to gamble and look towards South and Latin America. They are emerging countries where there is a rising middle class and greater spending power,” he added.


Thousands Protest In Madrid, Condemn Violence Against Women

Women hold placards reading “Justice for women” during a demonstration to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, 2017, at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP


Thousands took to the streets of Madrid Saturday to protest violence against women, just as Spain reels from a grisly trial over an alleged gang rape.

Shouting “We’re not scared,” they marched in the Spanish capital on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

At least 45 women have been killed in Spain so far this year by their partner or ex-partner, according to the government’s gender violence department.

Protesters held signs reading “how many more must die,” shouting “they’re not deaths, they’re murders.”

“I want to show how much I reject the situation in this country,” said Jorge Aranda, 40, who works in a health centre, pointing to the 45 deaths this year alone.

“This is unacceptable.”


The protest comes as powerful men in the United States and beyond have fallen from grace following allegations of sexual misconduct, starting with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

It also coincides with the trial in Spain of five men accused of gang raping a woman, then 18, in July 2016 during the famed Pamplona bull-running festival, a case that has shocked the country.

The men, aged 27 to 29, allegedly filmed the rape and then bragged about it on a WhatsApp messaging group where they referred to themselves as “La Manada”, or “The Pack” in English.

Public prosecutors have asked that the five be sentenced to 22 years in prison each. The men say the woman consented to the sexual encounter but have admitted to stealing her mobile phone.

The judge’s decision to admit as evidence details about the victim’s private life gathered by a private detective — including her presence at a party a few days after the alleged rape — has added to anger over the case.

“In Fuenlabrada, sister, your pack supports you,” read one large banner in the protest. Fuenlabrada is a town in the Madrid suburbs.

Another read: “You’re not alone, I believe you.”


Ousted Caracas Mayor Flees House Arrest, Heads To Madrid


Fugitive Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a key opponent of President Nicolas Maduro, traveled to Madrid on Friday after escaping house arrest in the Venezuelan capital.

Ledezma, 62, had hours earlier crossed the border into neighboring Colombia, saying he intended to fly to Europe to organize resistance against Maduro’s rule, which has left millions of Venezuelans facing food and medicine shortages.

The opposition leader boarded an Avianca flight from Bogota to Madrid, where he was scheduled to arrive early Saturday, airport sources at Bogota’s El Dorado airport said.

“My voice is joining a chorus of Venezuelans who have asked for help from Colombia,” Ledezma told reporters after arriving in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.

Several Venezuelan magistrates have taken shelter in Colombia, including former attorney general Luisa Ortega, who is under government protection.

He said his journey was worthy of a film, taking him past more than two dozen Venezuelan police and national guard positions before he was able to reach Colombia. However, he gave no details of his escape.

Ledezma said he had fled Caracas because Venezuelan military and intelligence officials had informed him of a “government plan” against him, although he provided no details.

“I don’t want to be a hostage to tyranny, to be used to subdue an opposition,” he said.

The government in Caracas has made no comment on his escape.

However, opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said Ledezma, whose wife is currently living in Spain, was at risk in Venezuela.

“I know that his life was in danger because of the position he took firmly and coherently against this false dialogue,” she said, referring to talks between the government and the opposition.

Ledezma has been critical of a planned new round of talks hosted by the Dominican Republic in December, after earlier efforts failed to get off the ground.

He said he had conveyed his objections to the talks in a phone call with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been a vocal critic of Maduro.

“It is time to step aside and allow a transitional government, so that Maduro cannot continue torturing the people of Venezuela,” Ledezma told reporters before heading to Madrid. “Maduro is starving the people of Venezuela.”

Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro hailed the mayor’s escape.

“My regards to Antonio Ledezma, moral reference of Venezuela, now free to lead the fight from exile, for the establishment of a democratic system in his country,” he wrote on Twitter.

Earlier, Colombia’s migration department said Ledezma had “entered Colombian territory by land, over the Simon Bolivar international bridge.”

The mayor, a lawyer by profession, was arrested and jailed in February 2015 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the president. He had been under house arrest following surgery.

He was elected Caracas mayor in 2009 and re-elected in 2013.

Ledezma is a member of the Democratic Action opposition party, which was the biggest party in Venezuela before the arrival into power of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

He told Venezuelans that it was not a time to lose faith in their struggle, “you have to keep flying the flag which symbolizes the dignity of a people who have lost food, who have lost their cash and who don’t have even have the money buy a sandwich.”

Spain To Issue Arrest Warrant For Catalan Leader

FILE PHOTO: Catalan president Carles Puigdemont leaves the hemicycle after Catalonia’s parliament voted to declare independence from Spain on October 27, 2017 in Barcelona. LLUIS GENE / AFP

A judge in Madrid was set Friday to issue an EU arrest warrant for Catalonia’s deposed leader over his region’s tumultuous independence drive, in a move likely to take tensions to a new level in Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

The warrant for Carles Puigdemont, who is holed up in Belgium, was expected a day after a Spanish judge threw a large chunk of Puigdemont’s axed regional government behind bars over their role in Catalonia’s push for secession.

Puigdemont, 54, dismissed last week as Catalan president by Spain’s government, failed to show at Thursday to be grilled by the judge over alleged sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds, accusations he calls politically motivated.

Judge Carmen Lamela, who on Thursday had Puigdemont’s deputy Oriol Junqueras and seven other deposed regional ministers detained pending a potential trial, will issue the warrant “during the day Friday,” a judicial source in Madrid told AFP.

Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer Paul Bekaert, who in the past has helped Basque separatists militants challenge Spanish extradition requests, told Flemish television channel VRT on Thursday his client would appeal the move.

A dark-suited Puigdemont said Thursday on Catalan TV from an undisclosed location that the situation “is no longer an internal Spanish affair” and called on the international community to wake up to the “danger”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who wants independence from Britain, said Friday that the crisis “should be resolved democratically — not by the jailing of political opponents.”

But otherwise Puigdemont’s appeal for foreign sympathy is likely to fall on deaf ears, with the international community overwhelmingly so far backing the central Spanish government.

– ‘Dictatorship not justice’ –

Late Thursday as television footage showed images of police vans with flashing blue lights taking Puigdemont’s former ministers to different prisons, Catalans took to the streets in anger and disbelief.

On Friday protesters briefly blocked several roads in Catalonia on Friday as well as a train line, authorities said. Fresh demonstrations were expected later.

Some 20,000 people, according to police, demonstrated in Barcelona, the regional capital, on Thursday. Others gathered across the region including 8,000 people in both Girona and Tarragona.

They held up mobile phones like candles, waved separatist flags — red and yellow stripes with a white star — and chanted “Free political prisoners” and “This isn’t justice but dictatorship”.

“There are political prisoners! This exacerbates things but this will also open the eyes of lots of people in Europe as well as in Catalonia,” retiree Josep Manel Boix, 63, told AFP.

Marta Rovira, a lawyer and Catalan separatist lawmaker, briefly broke down in tears as she spoke to reporters in Madrid after the announcement of the detentions.

“The Spanish state is a failed state, a state that has failed democratically,” she said. “I’m convinced we won’t surrender, we won’t, we will fight until the end.”

“We are one step from the abyss,” Catalan daily La Vanguardia said in editorial.

“The campaign (for the December election) now faces the serious risk of catching fire.”

– ‘Dodging responsibilities’ –

A total of 20 people including Puigdemont, Junqueras and the speaker of the Catalan regional parliament had been summoned for questioning on Thursday.

A hearing of the speaker and five others at the Supreme Court was adjourned until November 9 after their lawyers requested more time to prepare their defence.

Puigdemont and four others thought to be with him in Belgium — who will likely also be the subject of a warrant — failed to turn up. Bekaert said his client “did not find a climate conducive to testifying”.

In her ruling, judge Lamela said she had ordered preventive detention because of the danger that they might abscond like Puigdemont.

A ninth former minister, who resigned last week and who was the only one who didn’t refuse to answer Lamela’s questions, was also put in custody but was set to be freed after paying bail of 50,000 euros ($58,000) — an option not open to the others.

– Independence drive –

Catalan demands for independence date back centuries but have surged in recent years, in part due to a difficult economic situation compounded by corruption.

Puigdemont’s government organised an independence referendum on October 1 despite a court ban.

Spanish police tried and failed to stop it, in some cases firing rubber bullets at people defending polling stations.

A declaration of independence by the Catalan parliament followed last Friday.

But that same day, Rajoy dismissed the regional government, imposing direct rule on Catalonia and called regional elections for December 21.

Catalans, fiercely proud of their language and culture, are in fact deeply divided about independence, polls indicate.

Spain’s central bank warned Thursday of a possible recession in Catalonia if the crisis continues.

Close to 2,000 firms have moved their legal headquarters outside Catalonia.

There are signs of growing divisions among separatists, with many unhappy with Puigdemont being hundreds of miles away from the region he hopes to lead to independence.


Madrid Stocks Slide As Catalan Parliament Declares Independence

FILE PHOTO: Catalan Regional Government President Carles Puigdemont PAU BARRENA / AFP

The Madrid stock market sank on Friday, bucking an upward trend in Europe and the US as Catalan lawmakers voted to declare independence from Spain but Madrid immediately moved to quash the breakaway bid. 

A motion declaring independence was approved with 70 votes in favor, 10 against and two abstentions, with Catalan opposition MPs walking out of the 135-seat chamber before the vote in protest at a declaration unlikely to be given official recognition.

Madrid’s benchmark IBEX 35 index of major companies ended the session around 1.5 percent lower.

Shares in Catalan banks were among the biggest losers. CaixaBank, Spain’s third largest lender, fell by around five percent while Sabadell, the country’s fifth biggest bank, fell roughly six percent.

“We are likely to see more sustained unrest, possibly including strikes, as well as more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists,” Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi predicted in a note.

Nevertheless, elsewhere in Europe, the other main stock markets extended the previous day’s rally after the European Central Bank said it would soon start to taper its monetary stimulus program.

US markets were also upward bound, as blowout earnings by Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet and other tech giants propelled the Nasdaq 2.2 percent higher to an all-time record of 6,701.26.

Amazon alone surged 13.2 percent, adding nearly $62 billion in market capitalization in a single day after reporting only a modest rise in third-quarter profit but a 34 percent jump in revenues to $43.7 billion.

“Equities remain positive into the weekend, building on the recent recovery in bullish sentiment and rebounds from recent lows,” said Accendo Markets analyst, Mike van Dulken.

– Dollar strengthens –

The greenback shot up after the ECB said Thursday it will reduce from January its purchases of government and corporate bonds to 30 billion euros ($35 billion) a month, from 60 billion at present.

Policymakers, however, left themselves a nine-month horizon to decide on the next step for the quantitative easing (QE) policy.

The dollar added to those gains on Friday after US third-quarter economic growth came in at a better-than-expected 3.0 percent as the US economy absorbed the shocks of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Traders have also gotten more bullish on the greenback in light of progress in Washington on President Donald Trump’s tax cut, which has cleared a few preliminary hurdles in Congress but still faces many steps.

Next week’s US schedule of events is busy, with a Federal Reserve meeting and key data, including the October jobs report.

“Political developments may dominate the headlines, but there are also many US economic reports on next week’s calendar that will shed light on how well the US economy snapped back after the hurricanes,” said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management.

– Key figures around 2100 GMT –

New York – DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 23,434.19 (close)

New York – S&P 500: UP 0.8 percent at 2,581.07 (close)

New York – Nasdaq: UP 2.2 percent at 6,701.26 (close)

Madrid – IBEX 35: DOWN 1.5 percent at 10,197.50 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,505.03 (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.6 percent at 13,2217.54 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.7 percent at 5,494.13 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 3,652.23 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.2 percent at 22,008.45 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.8 percent at 28,438.85 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3416.81 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1604 from $1.1652

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3131 from $1.3160

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 113.67 yen from 114.00 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP $1.26 at $53.90 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP $1.14 at $60.37 per barrel


I Cannot Imagine La Liga Without Barca, Madrid President Says

I Cannot Imagine La Liga Without Barca, Madrid President Says
File photo

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez insists he cannot imagine “Spain without Catalonia nor La Liga without Barcelona” but has admitted concern at the political crisis sweeping Spain amid Catalonia’s drive for independence.

“There are hypotheticals that I do not consider. I am not considering a Spain without Catalonia nor La Liga without Barcelona,” the Real president for nearly 15 years over two spells told online newspaper El Espanol on Wednesday.

“Obviously it worries me like everyone else, but I can offer little assistance.

“I trust the government and the parties that back the constitution that have united to solve the problem in the best possible way.”

Spain has been shrouded in uncertainty since an independence referendum called by pro-separatist parties — and deemed illegal by the Spanish government — on October 1 was marred by a violent crackdown on people trying to vote.

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, and the Barcelona Football Club have backed the region’s right to self-determination, but stopped short of supporting independence.

La Liga president Javier Tebas announced on Tuesday that he has delayed putting future international TV rights out to tender due to the uncertainty.

According to Tebas, the TV rights are likely to lose 20 to 25 percent of their value should Barca leave La Liga.

However, Barca have stressed their desire to remain in the Spanish league.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has also expressed his wish for La Liga not to lose the world-famous Real-Barca rivalry.

El Clasico clashes between the two are routinely the most watched matches around the world, attracting a reported audience of 650 million.


Barca Trip To Madrid ‘Just A Game’ – Valverde


Barcelona visit Atletico Madrid in their first trip to the Spanish capital on Saturday since a Catalan independence referendum marred by violence, but Barca coach Ernesto Valverde attempted to quash talk of political tension by insisting it is just “a game of football.”

In their last outing, Barca played behind closed doors as the October 1 referendum, deemed illegal by the Spanish government, took place amid chaotic scenes as police seized ballot papers and clashed with voters leaving 92 injured, among nearly 900 who sought medical attention.

That match was described by Barca captain Andres Iniesta this week as one of the “worst moments” in his career, whilst Gerard Pique, an outspoken defender of Catalonia’s right to self-determination, broke down in tears when addressing reporters after the match.

However, Valverde hopes the biggest game of the La Liga season so far is a chance for fans to escape the political tension sweeping Spain rather than indulging in it.

“We are going to kid ourselves. It is a game between two teams who want to fight for La Liga and will be an intimidating atmosphere, but it is a game of football,” Valverde said on Friday.

“Football is for people to enjoy themselves. To support their team, suffer with their team and enjoy it more than anything else.”

Only 250 tickets have been made available to away fans at Atletico’s new 68,000 capacity Wanda Metropolitano.

However, many Atletico fans have taken to social media to encourage supporters not to politicise the match by waving Spanish flags by using the hashtag “our flag is red and white” on Twitter.

– Pique ‘admirable’ –

Pique was jeered when playing for Spain in Alicante last week, but he received support for his willingness to speak out from Atletico defender Filipe Luis.

“I am a fan of Pique even if at times I don’t agree with what he says,” the Brazilian told El Mundo.

“He puts himself out there, he doesn’t hide behind his fame to not say what he thinks.

“It is admirable and I wish more footballers were like him.”

Despite a series of distractions, including the loss of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and calls for Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign on top of the Catalonia crisis, Barca have started La Liga with a perfect record after seven games.

“They have made an enormous effort in the absence of Neymar to continue being a competitive team,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, whose side are six points behind Barca in fourth.

“They are in the generation of Pique, (Sergio) Busquets, (Lionel) Messi, (Luis) Suarez and what they transmit to the rest allows them to remain competitive. That is what they have shown in their start to the season.”

That spectacular form has been thanks to Messi’s 14 goals in 11 appearances for Barca this season.

And the five-time World Player of the Year also rescued Argentina’s floundering World Cup qualifying campaign with a stunning hat-trick against Ecuador on Tuesday to ensure their place in Russia next year.

However, Barca are often vulnerable immediately after an international break with the likes of Messi and Suarez only returning to training in Barcelona on Friday.

“Many of them have come from playing decisive games and the level of tension accumulated over the break is important,” added Valverde.

“Atletico have also had players away and if is was a less attractive match it might worry me more.

“We are aware of how difficult it will be and the magnitude of the game helps to remain concentrated.”

Iniesta is, though, expected to be fit after missing Spain’s final World Cup qualifiers with a hamstring strain.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Espanyol v Levante (1900)


Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla (1100), Getafe v Real Madrid (1415), Alaves v Real Sociedad (1630), Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (1845)


Eibar v Deportivo la Coruna (1000), Girona v Villarreal (1415), Malaga v Leganes (1630), Real Betis v Valencia (1845)


Las Palmas v Celta Vigo (1900)


Spain Eurofighter Crashes After National Day Parade, Pilot Dead

Spanish Eurofighter planes fly during the Spanish National Day military parade in Madrid. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

A Spanish military plane crashed on Thursday after taking part in a display in Madrid for Spain’s national day, the defence ministry said.

“I can confirm a plane has crashed,” a ministry spokeswoman said, with local media reporting that a Eurofighter jet went down near a military base at Albacete, 300 kilometres (180 miles) southeast of the capital.

The fate of the pilot and the cause of the crash were not immediately known and it was not clear if there were any other casualties.

Read Also: Spain Marks National Day With Show Of Unity In Catalan Crisis

A Eurofighter last crashed in Spain in June 2014, killing the plane’s pilot when it ploughed into grass short of the runway at the Moron air force base near Seville.

Spain’s national day marks the date that Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas in 1492.

It falls this year in the middle of Spain’s biggest political crisis in a decade as Catalonia’s separatist leader is threatening to split the region from the rest of the country.


Madrid Warns Catalan Leader Not To Make ‘Illegal’ Declaration

Catalan regional government President Carles Puigdemont attends a regional government meeting at the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona on October 10, 2017. PAU BARRENA / AFP

Spain’s government on Tuesday warned Catalan President Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont is warned by the government “not to do anything irreversible” ahead of a speech in Barcelona in which the separatist leader could declare independence from Spain.

“We call on Puigdemont not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration, which would lead to illegality,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told reporters.


Catalan Police Chief Probed For Alleged ‘Sedition’

Protestors hold Spanish flags during a demonstration against independence in Catalonia called by the xenophobic far-right party ‘Platform for Catalonia’ (PXC) in front of the Spanish National Police headquarters in Barcelona, on September 30, 2017. PAU BARRENA / AFP

A Spanish judge has placed Catalonia’s regional police chief under investigation for alleged sedition, a court spokesman said Wednesday, after the force was accused of failing to rein in pro-independence protesters.

The National Court in Madrid summoned Josep Luis Trapero and three other suspects to a hearing on Friday, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The accusations refer to unrest in Barcelona on September 20 and 21 after national security forces raided regional government offices in a crackdown against the independence drive.

That police action was met with furious protests and the Catalan regional police were accused of failing to intervene.

Tensions between Catalonia and the national government have plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

The spokesman said the four suspects were accused of “a crime of sedition… in relation to the gatherings and demonstrations carried out to forcibly prevent the authorities and their officers from carrying out their duties.”

The crime of sedition is punishable by up to 15 years in prison if committed by a member of the authorities, under Spain’s penal code.

The judge leading the judicial investigation, Carmen Lamela, also summoned the leaders of two prominent Catalan pro-independence civil groups: Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural and Jordi Sanchez of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

Those two groups were involved in the September demonstrations. Protesters damaged Civil Guard police vehicles and stopped officers from leaving the building they were searching.

The fourth suspect placed under investigation was another senior Catalan police official, Teresa Laplana.

The region’s leaders defied Madrid by holding a banned referendum on independence on Sunday.

National security forces beat unarmed voters as officers shut down some polling stations.


Isco Stars In Politicised Madrid Win


Real Madrid’s midfielder Isco celebrates his second goal during the Spanish league football match Real Madrid CF vs RCD Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on October 1, 2017.

Isco scored twice as Real Madrid reduced the gap on La Liga leaders Barcelona to seven points courtesy of a 2-0 win over Espanyol on a day where football was dragged into violent political clashes in Catalonia.

Barca had earlier extended their perfect start in La Liga to seven games in extraordinary circumstances as they beat Las Palmas 3-0 behind closed doors at the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou following the police crackdown over an independence vote deemed illegal by the Spanish government.

At least 91 people were injured as Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations.

Following La Liga’s refusal to abandon the match, Barca decided to play behind closed doors as a means of protest.

Outspoken Barca defender Gerard Pique broke down in tears as he described the day as “the worst professional experience I have had in my life.”

The political tension also bubbled over at the Santiago Bernabeu where Real fans waved Spanish flags and sang ‘Viva Espana’ (long live Spain).

Real Madrid’s midfielder Isco 

On the field, there was far less conflict as Real eased to an 11th consecutive win over Barcelona-based Espanyol for their first home league win of the season.

Isco was denied the opening goal inside 30 seconds by Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez.

But the Spanish international made no mistake when he prodded home Cristiano Ronaldo’s pass for the opener on 30 minutes.

Ronaldo volleyed over and then fired straight at Lopez when clean through.

However, Espanyol had a slew of chances themselves to level.

Gerard Moreno hit the post just before the break, whilst Keylor Navas denied Marc Navarro and Nacho produced a brilliant goal line clearance to prevent Leo Baptistao a tap in.

Espanyol’s profligacy was finally punished 19 minutes from time when Isco curled home his second of the evening at the end of a rapid counter-attack.

Victory lifts Madrid up to fifth behind Barca, Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid.

Valencia’s great start under Marcelino Garcia Toral’s tutelage continued with a thrilling 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Simeone Zaza and Dani Parejo’s penalty gave the hosts a 2-0 half-time lead.

Aritz Aduriz reduced the arrears for Athletic, who have now gone six games without a win.

Rodrigo restored Valencia’s two-goal cushion before Raul Garcia’s late consolation.

The game of the day was undoubtedly at Anoeta where Real Sociedad and Real Betis drew 4-4.

Three times Betis led thanks to goals from Antonio Sanabria, Zoudhair Feddal, Joaquin and Sergio Leon.

But Sociedad kept roaring back as Diego Llorente’s header four minutes from time salvaged a point after earlier strikes from Willian Jose, Mikel Oyarzabal and Xabi Prieto.

Villarreal get off to a winning start under new coach Javi Calleja as Cedric Bakambu hit a hat-trick to see off Eibar 3-0.


Catalan Official Accuses EU Of Tacitly Backing Madrid

Catalan Socialist Party PSC spokesman Miguel Iceta (L) protests from his seat
during a session at the Catalan parliament to debate and vote a cessation law on an independence, in Barcelona, on September 7, 2017. Catalonia’s government denounced a “covert state of siege” imposed by the central government in Madrid, after a prosecutor said the region’s leaders would face charges over a planned independence referendum.PAU BARRENA / AFP

The European Union is tacitly backing the Spanish government’s “repressive actions” to prevent the Catalan region from holding a weekend independence referendum, a leading Catalan official charged Thursday.

The official, Raul Romeva, urged the 28-nation EU to end its silence and defend its founding treaty guaranteeing democratic norms, which he alleged Madrid is now violating.

“Failing to rise its voice, failing even to call for a political dialogue as it seems to be the case so far is not neutral,” Romeva told a press conference in Brussels.

“This is perceived by the Spanish state as an endorsement of the repressive actions” it is carrying out, said Romeva, who handles foreign affairs for the regional government.

The Catalan government’s plans to hold an independence vote on Sunday in defiance of court orders ruling it illegal have triggered large protests in Barcelona and a major crackdown from Madrid.

However, EU officials have stayed doggedly tight-lipped even as diplomats privately voice serious concern at a situation some regard as a challenge to fundamental European values.

Officials from the European Commission, the EU executive, have repeatedly fended off questions on the Catalan crisis with variations on the same response: “The commission respects Spain’s constitutional order and legal framework.”

But Romeva called on the European Commission and the European Parliament to “stand for values and principles enshrined” in the founding treaties.

“Civil rights are being violated as I speak and the quality of democracy in Spain is eroding day after day,” he said.

Analysts have said that an independent Catalonia would trigger a crisis the EU would find hard to manage as it would energise separatist movements in other European countries.