Spain, Morocco To Re-Open Enclave Land Borders On Tuesday

File photo: Commuters wearing face masks sit on a train at the Atocha Station in Madrid on April 13, 2020 . JAVIER SORIANO / AFP.

 

Madrid and Rabat have agreed to re-open the land borders between Morocco and two Spanish enclaves on Tuesday, Spain’s interior minister said Thursday.

The move helps draw a line under a major diplomatic standoff on the back of coronavirus restrictions that together closed the crossings for two years.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the two countries had agreed to open the land borders with Ceuta and Melilla gradually from May 17.

Crossings will be initially limited to residents of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area and their family members, and will then be expanded to cross-border workers after May 31, he told reporters in Madrid.

Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

The local economies on both sides of the borders depend on the crossing of people and goods.

The borders became the focus of a major dispute last year when Madrid allowed the leader of a Western Saharan independence movement to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Ten thousand migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Ceuta as local border forces looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.

In March, Spain moved to end the diplomatic crisis with Morocco by removing its decades-long stance of neutrality and backing the kingdom’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, which Rabat insists must remain under its sovereignty.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited King Mohammed VI in early April.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares had announced on Wednesday that the borders would reopen “in the coming days” without specifying a date.

US Doctors Reflect On Exhaustion, Trauma Of One Million COVID-19 Deaths

File photo: A healthcare worker fills a syringe with Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in a predominately Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, August 11, 2021. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

 

Joseph Varon — who is chief of intensive care at United Memorial, a small hospital that mainly treats minority patients in Houston — made headlines when a photo of him hugging an elderly Covid patient during Thanksgiving in 2020 went viral.

While that man went on to recover, it was those that did not make it that haunt Varon.

“As a doctor, just in the last two years I have signed more death certificates than ever,” he said.

As the United States marks the grim milestone of one million Covid deaths, health care workers who have served on the frontlines continue to shoulder a heavy burden, even as the rest of society has moved on.

Many are exhausted, traumatized, and still afraid of crowded settings.

Varon remembers well his first death, that of an immigrant working in a hotel.

“He came into the hospital, and literally within a week he died, at 34 years of age without any pre-existing medical conditions,” he said.

From then, until the last big wave at the start of this year, there was little respite.

Varon recalls nurses crying as they faced never-ending ICU admissions, beds in hallways, one intubation after another.

He also remembers his wife asking him to change his clothes in the garage before entering their home, after 20-hour shifts.

The Thanksgiving photograph, said Varon, “became a symbol that we doctors also have feelings.”

At that moment, he didn’t care about protecting himself, but wanted to give comfort to a man who didn’t know if he’d make it and couldn’t see his wife, since visits were not permitted.

The demands of work also extracted a personal toll. Varon feels far older than his 59 years, hasn’t gone on vacation since the start of the pandemic, and was phoning in prescriptions on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

He now sees “light at the end of the tunnel” and isn’t seeing many Covid patients — though he is seeing patients with post-Covid disorders including heart and lung issues.

– Stressed by crowds –

Early on, the disease was a total mystery: how it was transmitted, who was most susceptible, how to treat it.

Health workers feared bringing it home to their loved ones, or dying themselves.

That fear was heightened for Daniel Brenner, an emergency physician interviewed by AFP at the start of the pandemic, when doctors were scrambling to find the right strategies to deal with severe lung injury caused by serious cases of Covid.

Brenner’s wife is also an emergency doctor — and until the vaccine came along, they lived in dread of leaving behind their two young children, now aged five and three.

“The thought of dying because of what you do and leaving your children as orphans is terrifying,” the 38-year-old said.

Now working in Indianapolis, Brenner says he’s found it hard to re-adjust to crowds, despite far lower levels of Covid in the community, and hardly does things he used to take for granted, like eating inside restaurants.

“It’s unfortunate because I’m trying to make sure that I don’t inflict my trauma on my kids,” he said, becoming emotional.

“I want to make sure that they have enriching fulfilling things in their lives, but it’s really hard when I’m trying to figure out what’s safe.”

The vaccine was a major turning point, says Brenner, greatly reducing the risk of severe disease and lifting a weight off his shoulders.

But there are still vaccine holdouts getting sick.

“I have a mixture of sadness and frustration because it’s preventable and I see people who are spreading misinformation, and doing themselves and their neighbors and their family a disservice,” he said.

On a more hopeful note, Brenner makes a point of talking to all high-risk patients he sees about Covid vaccinations, and finds that the hesitant are generally amenable once he addresses their fears.

“The vast majority of my patients, after I have that conversation, ask me where to get vaccinated,” he says.

Brenner directs them to a walkup clinic within the same hospital.

AFP

Contract Termination: Huesca Threaten Legal Action, Says Nwakali’s Claims Lack ‘Veracity’

Nwakali is a former Nigerian youth international. [email protected]

 

Spanish side Huesca have threatened legal action against Super Eagles midfielder Kelechi Nwakali over his claims that the club terminated his contract for representing Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) earlier in the year. 

The club terminated his contract on Tuesday, claiming the player reported 10 days late after the competition and gave “incredible stories” for his lateness.

Although Nwakali broke silence over the matter on Wednesday, accusing Huesca of intimidation, the Segunda side have dismissed the claims, describing them as lacking “veracity”.

“On the statements made by Kelechi Nwakali earlier today after [a] premature termination of the contract that bound him and SD Huesca, the club wishes to express its total repudiation given their complete lack of veracity,” Huesca said in a statement issued on their website, hours after Nwakali’s outburst.

“All of this is done in the conviction that the club has acted at all times with the utmost respect for the player.

“Nevertheless, in view of the seriousness of certain statements referred to in his notice, this club reserves for itself the right to take the appropriate legal action to defend its rights to protect their legitimate interests.”

READ ALSO: Nwakali Accuses Huesca Of Contract Termination For Representing Nigeria At AFCON

‘I Will Never Regret My Decision’

Nigeria won all group stage game at the AFCON. [email protected]

 

Before Huesca’s comment, the Spanish Soccer Players Association (AFE) had vowed to challenge the contract termination, arguing that the move violated labour rights.

“In the face of the numerous information that is appearing, some erroneous, AFE wants to clarify that the dismissal will be challenged – as it cannot be otherwise – before the courts of the city of Huesca with the aim of continuing to safeguard the labor rights of the footballer,” the association said in a statement.

“AFE understands that, with this unilateral resolution adopted by the club, the labor rights of Kelechi Nwakali have clearly been violated.”

Despite the debacle, Nwakali insists he does not regret representing Nigeria at Africa’s premier football competition.

Playing for the three-time AFCON champions is an honour, the former youth international said in a lengthy post in which he accused Huesca of delaying his wages.

“I will never regret my decision to represent Nigeria and all I want to do is get back to playing the sport I love,” he maintained.

“Lastly, I want to thank the fans and my teammates of Huesca who have been amazing during my time here. I have always given 100% for the club, despite my treatment over the past three years.”

Football authorities in Nigeria have not commented on the issue. FIFA and CAF have also not issued any statement on the matter as of the time of publishing this report.

Clasico Thrashing Could Change Everything For Barca, Says Xavi


Barcelona’s Spanish coach Xavi gestures during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Xavi Hernandez said Barcelona’s 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid could be transformative for the club after their Clasico demolition at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Barcelona blew Madrid away as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice either side of goals from Ronald Araujo and Ferran Torres.

The match was billed as a test of Barca’s progress under Xavi and they passed with flying colours, a humiliation of their fiercest rivals suggesting they are primed to challenge again for La Liga next season.

“It can change the dynamics of the present and the future,” said Xavi. “We had lots of chances and we were much better than Madrid, far superior. We deserved to score so many goals.”

Asked if Barcelona are back, Xavi said: “It can be. This is the right path.”

And while the result might have little bearing on the title race this term, a defeat of this magnitude, at home, and against Barcelona, will cause serious reverberations at Real Madrid.

It will go down with other historic Clasico thrashings, like when Barca won 6-2 at Real Madrid in 2009 under Pep Guardiola or 5-0 at home two years later.

Questions will be asked about Carlo Ancelotti’s future, with Madrid outplayed tactically and technically by Xavi’s Barca, who were faster, slicker and, perhaps most worryingly, could easily have won by more.

“We played badly and I planned the game badly,” said Ancelotti. “I am sorry for the defeat and I am sad. But we have to keep it in perspective.”

READ ALSOAubameyang Scores Brace As Barcelona Humiliate Real Madrid


Barcelona’s Spanish forward Ferran Torres (R) celebrates with Barcelona’s Gabonese midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) and Barcelona’s French forward Ousmane Dembele (C) after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Madrid were admittedly without the injured Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy while there could have been a degree of complacency, given they kicked off nine points clear at the top of the table after Sevilla were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad.

But none of that will excuse a loss as dramatic as this one, the only relief now that a resurgent Barcelona are still 12 points behind, albeit with a game in hand.

Aubameyang’s double means he now has nine goals in 11 games for Barcelona and the Gabon striker is looking like a superb January signing.

Pedri was outstanding again too — but this was a night for the bigger picture, as Barcelona’s revival made its biggest statement so far.

When Barca were beaten by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in January, the Catalans were criticised for celebrating the manner of their narrow defeat.

“We are getting closer,” said Gerard Pique.

After five consecutive losses to Madrid, a win of any kind was the next step for Barca but a hammering like this could be transformative, delivering a huge boost to confidence, vindication of Xavi’s project, and optimism for next season all in one fell swoop.

‘We Are Back’ 

Barcelona’s players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 20, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Shortly after the final whistle here, Pique tweeted: “We are back.”

Eder Militao clattered Pedri in the opening minute and that was about as close as Real Madrid got to him all game.

Soon, the chances started coming for Barca as Ferran Torres pulled back for Aubameyang but he scuffed straight at Thibaut Courtois, who then had to palm wide a curling effort from Ousmane Dembele.

Barca’s dominance was growing and in the 29th minute, they scored, Dembele racing round the outside of Nacho Fernandez and crossing for Aubameyang to head in.

Vinicius Junior might have changed the game if he had converted after being sent through but a heavy touch allowed Marc-Andre ter Stegen to save.

Instead, Barcelona doubled their lead when Ronald Araujo headed in from a corner before half-time and after it, the humiliation began.

David Alaba and Militao both committed themselves to sliding tackles and both missed, Aubameyang executing a superb flicked pass to Torres, who made no mistake.

Worse was to come, as Pique’s ball over the top allowed Aubameyang to scoop in a brilliant finish for a fourth in the 51st minute. Madrid thought they were spared by the offside flag but VAR intervened and the goal stood.

Aubameyang, Torres, and Dembele could all have furthered the embarrassment for Madrid, the latter poking wide after skipping in behind and holding off Militao.

By then, Aubameyang had gone off, the victory already complete and the stadium quickly emptying.

AFP

Thousands Protest In Spain Over Cost Of Food, Light And Fuel

Demonstrators wave Spanish flags during a nationwide protest called by Spanish far-right Vox party against price hikes, in front of the city hall in Madrid on March 19, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Demonstrators wave Spanish flags during a nationwide protest called by Spanish far-right Vox party against price hikes, in front of the city hall in Madrid on March 19, 2022. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Thousands of demonstrators hit the streets across Spain on Saturday in protest at the soaring cost of food, light and fuel, which have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The rallies, which took place in Spain’s main cities, were called by the far-right Vox party which sought to tap into growing social discontent over the spiralling cost of living that has left many families struggling to pay their bills.

Outside City Hall in Madrid, a crowd of several thousand people gathered, waving hundreds of Spanish flags and chanting angry slogans calling for the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

READ ALSO: Russia Uses Advanced Hypersonic Missiles In Ukraine

“Sanchez, you’re rubbish, bring down our bills!” they shouted, between patriotic cries of “Long live Spain!” at a rally demanding government action to lower prices.

“We have the worst possible government.. It’s not even a government, it’s a misery factory… which plunders and extorts workers through abusive taxes,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal told the rally to rousing cheers.

“We will not leave the streets until this illegitimate government is expelled.”

This government “is taking everything from us”, said Anabel, a 56-year-old demonstrator who didn’t give her surname.

“They hike the light and gas prices and say it’s because of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, but that’s a lie. It was like this before,” she told AFP.

“Light prices really affect (my family) because some of us work from home, and we can hardly put the heating on because the price of gas has almost doubled over the past six months.”

‘Abandoning the people’

Many said government should be lowering taxes to help those struggling.

“A country that raises prices in this way and doesn’t help its citizens by partially lowering taxes, is abandoning its people,” said Francisco, 53, unemployed and didn’t give his family name.

“We have to force the government to act — or remove them, for Spain’s sake.”

Last year, energy prices soared by 72 percent in Spain, one of the highest increases within the European Union, and costs have surged even higher since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a crisis that comes hot on the heels of the pandemic.

On Monday, Spanish lorry drivers declared an open-ended strike over fuel prices which soon mushroomed into multiple roadblocks and protests, triggering supply chain problems.

Rising prices have also prompted the UGT and the CCOO, Spain’s two biggest unions, to call a national strike on March 23.

The government has pledged to take steps reduce cost of energy and fuel, but will only lay out its plans on March 29.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is currently on a European tour to lobby for a common EU response to soaring energy prices

Madrid has for months urged its European partners to change the mechanism which couples electricity prices to the gas market, but its pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears, despite support from Paris.

 

AFP

15-Year-Old Boy Arrested For Allegedly Shooting Parents, Brother Dead

BREAKING: 'Multiple Casualties' As Gunman Opens Fire At US Synagogue
File photo

 

A 15-year-old boy has been arrested in Spain on suspicion of shooting dead his parents and 10-year-old brother following a row over bad school grades, police said Saturday. 

The incident occurred on Tuesday evening in a rural area just outside Elche, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the southeastern port city of Alicante.

It was not discovered until Friday night by a relative who turned up to check on them, a police spokesman said.

READ ALSO: Gunmen Kill Senior Govt Official In Kaduna

“The mother’s sister came to the house because she had heard nothing from the family and that’s when her nephew told her he’d killed his father, mother and brother,” he told AFP, saying she had called the police who confirmed finding three bodies inside the house.

Police then arrested the teen, “a 15-year-old minor” who had been alone in the house with the bodies for three days.

He told them he had “argued with his mother over his school grades” then used his father’s hunting rifle to kill her, then his 10-year-old brother, and later his father.

The family was local to the area but not known to police, the spokesman said.

AFP

Spain Unemployment Falls To Below Pre-Pandemic Rate

File Photo: Commuters wearing face masks sit on a train at the Atocha Station in Madrid on April 13, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP.

 

Unemployment dropped sharply in Spain in 2021, falling almost three percentage points to a rate not seen since before the pandemic, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said on Thursday.

The rate fell to 13.3 percent at the end of December, down from 16.13 percent a year earlier, with a total of 3.1 million people registered as unemployed in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy. At the end of 2020, that figure stood at nearly 3.7 million.

The latest jobless rate is slightly lower than that recorded before the Covid crisis took hold.

Some 3.19 million people were out of work in December 2019, or 13.8 percent of the workforce

The latest figure does not, however, include people registered as partially unemployed under a furlough scheme introduced to help companies during the pandemic.

As of last month, 102,000 people were still registered on the scheme, the social security ministry said.

READ ALSO: US Ships Nearly 1.7 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To Uganda

The figures “confirm the extraordinary recovery in the Spanish jobs market since the pandemic”, Economy Minister Nadia Calvino told public radio RNE.

“The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008,” tweeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, referring to the global financial crisis of that year.

The INE said job rates were up across the board, with tourism-dependent Spain’s services sector proving particularly buoyant.

The upbeat results came despite an economic recovery that has been less robust than expected, due to the continuation of Covid restrictions and global supply shortages.

Spain was one of the western economies worst affected by the Covid crisis.

GDP plummeted by 10.8% in 2020 and half a million people lost their jobs, many of them in tourism and the hotel sector.

Spain Leads Calls For COVID-19 To Be Treated Like Flu

SUMMA 112 (Medical Emergency Services of Madrid) sanitary technician Jose Antonio Perez disinfects equipment after attending to suspected coronavirus patients in Madrid on November 13, 2020. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Spain is spearheading calls for governments to start tackling Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu, despite WHO opposition and warnings that the approach is premature.

With governments and populations worldwide desperate for an end to the pandemic, discussion about when the virus might be reclassified has intensified.

“Spain wants to lead this debate because it is timely and necessary to do so,” Health Minister Carolina Darias has said, adding that Spain asked the European Centre for Disease Prevention (ECDC) to “study new strategies” to deal with Covid.

Spain is in a good position to open the debate, having one of the world’s highest vaccination rates with 90.5 per cent of its population over the age of 12 fully immunised.

But the question has sparked disagreement between governments seeking some sort of normality and some parts of the medical community which advocate keeping its guard up.

Spain’s left-wing government has been a prominent advocate of reclassifying Covid as an endemic disease with milder seasonal outbreaks that humanity can live with, like the flu.

The country is working with the scientific community to eventually shift from “managing a pandemic to managing a disease which we hope science will reclassify as an endemic illness”, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said this week.

Although Omicron has triggered a surge in infections, there have been fewer deaths and lower rates of hospital admissions, with many governments easing restrictions, reducing isolation times and loosening border controls.

“As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday, announcing that restrictions were being lifted in England.

Arguing “we must learn to live with Covid” in a similar way to seasonal flu, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government would set out a long-term plan for living with coronavirus within months.

– ‘False hope’ –

On Tuesday, however, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted that the pandemic was “nowhere near over”, warning that new variants were still “likely to emerge”.

The UN health organisation also warned against the temptation to play down the seriousness of an endemic disease.

“Endemic in itself does not mean good — endemic just means it’s here forever,” the WHO’s emergencies director, Michael Ryan, told the Davos Agenda roundtable on vaccine equity, citing malaria as an example.

Fernando Garcia, an epidemiologist and the spokesman of a public health association, warned that talk of treating Covid-19 as an endemic illness at this stage was “creating false hope”.

“We are indeed moving towards the virus becoming more endemic, but we cannot say we have already reached that status,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) vaccination strategy.

There is no numerical threshold that distinguishes between an epidemic and a disease which is endemic, Garcia told AFP.

“An epidemic is when there is a very significant outbreak of cases, above the normal, which is what we have experienced since the beginning of 2020,” he said.

“And endemic diseases may have a seasonal trend but do not put pressure on the health system.”

Nor is it a foregone conclusion that the virus will evolve to cause less harm.

– ‘Mild symptoms’ –

“Future severity remains a big unknown. There is no law dictating that a virus must become milder over time,” Antoine Flahault, director of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health, wrote on Twitter.

“It is very hard to predict the evolution of virulence.”

When Covid-19 becomes endemic, “most people who become infected will have mild symptoms”, Garcia said.

“There will be a few who suffer complications that mean they end up in hospital and die,” he added.

“But you’ll never see one in four intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients, not even five percent of them. Cases will probably be handled by primary care.”

In Spain, more than 23 percent of intensive care beds are taken up by Covid patients and more than 91,000 people have died since the pandemic first took hold in March 2020.

Of that number, 2,610 died between December 17 and January 18.

Some healthcare professionals have backed the Spanish government’s approach.

“Let’s stop visiting and testing healthy people with mild symptoms, or tracking and testing their contacts, let’s abandon self-isolation and quarantine,” urged a recent article by SemFYC, which represents around 19,000 family medicine specialists.

“All these activities… have been rendered meaningless with acquired immunity (both through infection and through vaccination) and the arrival of Omicron,” it said.

Second Child Dies From Spain Bouncy Castle Tragedy

Map of Spain

 

A four-year-old girl has died following a bouncy castle accident last week in eastern Spain, the second child to die after a gust of wind blew away the structure, local officials said Monday.

Another seven children were hurt after they fell from the inflatable bouncy castle on January 4 in Mislata on the outskirts of Valencia.

An eight-year-old girl died from her injuries the day after the fairground accident.

“We regret the death of the second girl who was in hospital in serious condition following the accident,” Mislata city hall said in a statement.

The city declared three days of official mourning and cancelled all official events until noon Wednesday in the wake of the girl’s death.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Pope Francis Calls For ‘Reality Therapy’ For Anti-Vaxxers

“What great sadness! Despite the extraordinary efforts made by healthcare workers, the second girl injured at the fair has died,” Mislata mayor Carlos Bielsa tweeted.

Police have opened an investigation to determine if the bouncy castle complied with safety rules.

Last month, six children died on Australia’s island state of Tasmania after a gust of wind lifted a large inflatable castle off the ground at an end-of-term school party.

Over 4,000 Migrants Died Trying To Reach Spain In 2021, Says NGO

File photo of migrants on a boat.

 

Over 4,000 migrants died or disappeared trying to reach Spain by sea in 2021, twice as many as in the previous year, a migrant rights group said Monday.

Migrant arrivals in Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic have increased since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.

This route is fraught with dangers due to strong currents and the greater distances involved.

READ ALSO: India Begins Vaccinating Teens As Omicron Fears Rise

A total of 4,404 migrants perished or vanished in attempts to reach Spain last year, up from 2,170 in 2020, according to Spanish non-governmental organisation Caminando Fronteras, which tracks data from boats in distress.

That is the highest yearly number since the group started keeping records in 2015.

The bodies of the vast majority of migrants, 94 percent, were never found so they are counted as missing.

Over 90 percent of the deaths or disappearances last year, 4,016, took place during attempts to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.

The shortest route to the archipelago is more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Moroccan coast.

“There are painful figures”,¨Maria Gonzalez Rollan, one of the authors of the annual report, told a news conference.

Migration routes to Spain were becoming more “feminised”, with 628 women and 205 children among those who died or went missing last year while trying to reach the country, she added.

The figures from the NGO are much higher than those from the UN International Organization for Migration which has tallied 1,279 deaths or disappearances of migrants on their way to Spain from northern Africa last year.

At least 37,385 migrants arrived in Spain by sea last year, according to Spanish interior ministry figures, slightly less than the 38,014 that arrived in 2020.

AFP

Real Madrid ‘Still On Holiday’ In Getafe loss, Patched-Up Barca Beat Mallorca


Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Rodrygo (C) and Getafe’s Turkish forward Enes Unal (Back) jump for the ball during the Spanish league football match between Getafe CF and Real Madrid CF, at the Col. Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe on January 2, 2022.  JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Carlo Ancelotti said Real Madrid were “still on holiday” in their shock 1-0 loss to Getafe on Sunday while Barcelona overcame their Covid chaos to sneak a tight victory away at Mallorca.

Madrid’s surprise defeat was their first in three months and gives fresh hope to the beleaguered chasing pack in Spain, after Eder Militao’s early error allowed Enes Unal to score the winner at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

“We were on holiday for an extra day,” said Ancelotti afterward. “The team was not the same team that played before Christmas — less commitment, less concentration.

“We didn’t deserve to lose but we ended up with a defeat that could be a wake-up call.”

READ ALSOUnsettled Chelsea Star Lukaku Dropped For Liverpool Clash – Reports

Barcelona were without eight first-team players who had tested positive for Covid last week while a further six were out through injury or suspension.

Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday it was “crazy” the game had to go ahead, with Jordi Alba, Ousmane Dembele and Gavi among those infected while Sergio Busquets was suspended and Pedri, Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay injured.

But a patched-up Barcelona team climbed to fifth, just a point behind Atletico Madrid, after Luuk de Jong’s header proved the difference in a 1-0 win over Mallorca.

“With all the absentees, the three points are hugely important for us,” Xavi said.

“The first objective this season is to be in the Champions League places and now we are close.”

Atletico Madrid claimed fourth spot after beating the high-flying Rayo Vallecano 2-0 to leapfrog Rayo, with Angel Correa scoring both of Atletico’s goals.

Atletico and Barca are still 14 and 15 points behind Real Madrid respectively but Sevilla in second will be only five adrift of the leaders, with a game in hand, if they win at Cadiz on Sunday.

Madrid have taken command of the Spanish title race after a superb run of form that included 10 consecutive wins and 15 matches without defeat, their last loss coming at Espanyol on October 3.

But Ancelotti’s side were woefully out of sorts in their first outing of 2022 and, aside from a brief spell in the first half, struggled really even to threaten the Getafe goal.

Eden Hazard came on at half-time but again failed to shake his team into life while Karim Benzema was unusually quiet up front. Madrid certainly missed the penetration of Vinicius Junior, who was absent after testing positive for Covid.

“To say we were still on holiday isn’t a criticism, it’s the same thing that I’ve said to the players,” Ancelotti said.

“We accept responsibility, because the coach was maybe still on holiday as well. We are still top, so we look forward.”

Getafe lost eight games in a row earlier in the season but came in on the back of an upturn in form under Quique Sanchez Flores, having gone five games unbeaten, including a pair of wins over Cadiz and Osasuna.

Unal gave them the lead in the ninth minute after the usually dependable Militao was caught napping. The Brazilian went to clear on the edge of his own area but instead took an extra touch, engaging in a tussle with Unal, who robbed the ball and finished past Thibaut Courtois.

Hazard and Marcelo both came on at half-time but neither made much of an impact, with Hazard unable to muster a single attempt on goal. Benzema had a shot blocked, Casemiro saw a half-volley saved and Mariano Diaz headed over, but Getafe deserved their victory.

De Jong has been linked with leaving Barcelona this month but it was his goal that secured a crucial victory over Mallorca, the Dutchman heading in Oscar Mingueza’s cross at the back post to make it four games unbeaten now under Xavi.

Barca also needed a stunning, reaction save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose right arm denied Jaume Costa from volleying in an equaliser in injury-time.

Atletico had suffered four consecutive defeats in La Liga for the first time ever under Simeone but Correa’s double ensured they bounced back against Rayo, who drop to sixth.

AFP

ATP Cup: Bautista Agut Leads Spain To Crushing Win Over Chile

Christian Garin of Chile hits a return against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on day one of the 2022 ATP Cup men’s single tennis match in Sydney on January 1, 2022. Steven Saphore / AFP

 

Roberto Bautista Agut got Spain’s New Year off to a perfect start Saturday with a crushing ATP Cup win over Chilian world number 17 Cristian Garin as he spearheads the team in Rafael Nadal’s absence.

The 33-year-old, ranked two places below Garin, barely broke a sweat in the 6-0, 6-3 win at the Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, ensuring Spain won their Group A tie on day one of the season-opening tournament.

“I played a very solid game, good rhythm and good speed,” he said. “I’m very happy because I won my point for the team.”

Bautista Agut, a nine-time ATP Tour titlist, was part of the Nadal-led Spain team that made the final at the inaugural teams’ event in 2020 when they were beaten by Novak Djokovic’s Serbia.

He is the lead singles player this time after 20-time Grand Slam champion Nadal opted to play an Australian Open lead-up event in Melbourne instead.

Whether Nadal would make it to Australia at all was in doubt after he tested positive for the coronavirus after an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi last month.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Changes Facebook Bio Amid Row With Tuchel

But he tweeted a photo of himself on an empty court at Melbourne Park late Friday with the comment: “Don’t tell anyone… here I am.”

A number of other players in Abu Dhabi also tested positive, including Russia’s world number five Andrey Rublev, who is out of the ATP Cup.

Defending champions Russia, who beat Italy in last year’s final, start their campaign on Sunday against France.

Spain’s number two, the 20th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta, earlier came through 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo, battling back from 3-0 down in both sets.

Each tie comprises two singles matches and one doubles with the winning nation from each of the four groups making the semi-finals.

In the other morning tie, Argentina cruised past Georgia with world number 13 Diego Schwartzman annihilating 22nd-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-2.

His teammate Federico Delbonis enjoyed a memorable tournament debut by thrashing Aleksandre Metreveli by the same score.

“It’s always very difficult to start a tie, so I was very happy when Federico beat his opponent very quickly, very easily,” said Schwartzman.

“So it was comfortable for me to start the second point with already a win for the team.”

In the evening ties, Serbia — who are without Djokovic — kick-off against Casper Ruud’s Norway in Group A while Stefanos Tsitsipas’s Greece take on Poland in Group D.

AFP