Politically Divided Spain United By El Clasico Rivalry

Often symbolised as pitting the pride of Catalonia against Spain’s capital, the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid is a match laced with political and social as much as sporting tension.

Even more so this week when the sides face off in Madrid on Saturday lunchtime just over 36 hours after polls will close in local elections in Catalonia that were called over the crisis caused by the region’s drive for independence.

“They have a very strong ideological connection,” political scientist Pablo Simon told AFP.

“On the one side are Real Madrid, who normally can be said to have a more conservative and nationalist fan base.”

By contrast, Simon cites Barca’s ‘more than a club’ motto as being rooted in a sense of Catalan identity.

The sights and sounds of their Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu stadiums reflect that difference.

In Barcelona, Catalan flags, including the independence-supporting Estelada, are commonly flown, while the crowd at Europe’s biggest stadium chant in favour of independence in the 17th minute of each match to mark the fall of Catalonia in the Spanish War of Succession in 1714.

At the Bernabeu, Spain flags are splattered across the stadium, while cries of “Viva Espana” rang around on October 1 in the hours following a violent crackdown by Spanish police forces on a referendum on independence called by separatists in Catalonia.

However, for all their differences, El Clasico and particularly the fear of losing the matchup should Catalonia gain independence, unites both sets of fans.

“It is the derby of Spain and it feels like it is impossible to be neutral,” Sid Lowe, a Spanish football journalist and author of the book “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” on the rivalry, told AFP.

“It is a unifying event. No-one wants to lose this game, even in the event of Catalan independence.”

AFP

Ronaldo Scores Late To See Off Barcelona In Elclasico

Cristiano Ronaldo scored late as 10-man Real Madrid stunned Barcelona at the Camp Nou to win El Clasico on Saturday.

Gerard Pique had given Barca the lead before Karim Benzema answered for Real, and soon after Sergio Ramos was sent off Ronaldo found the winner.

Barcelona had a glorious chance to take the lead in the 10th minute when Neymar fed an open Luis Suarez, but the Uruguayan could not get his feet right and the ball fell wide of the goal.

Real Madrid responded as Gareth Bale raced into the box from the wing and tried to square for a teammate but the play was picked out for a sliding Gerard Pique.

But the hosts had more opportunities in the first half, as Andres Iniesta had a powerful shot blocked in front soon after.

As Barca kept up the pressure, Real defender Dani Carvajal was booked for stopping an attack and Lionel Messi’s free kick flew over the bar.

Ivan Rakitic then forced a save from Keylor Navas before Neymar shot well high after a series of fine passes with Messi.

The first major talking point came in the 24th minute when Sergio Ramos collided with Lionel Messi at the top of the box, but referee Alejandro Hernandez waved away Barcelona’s penalty shouts.

Ramos had already been booked for a foul in the buildup to Suarez’s opening chance, but Hernandez ruled he got the slightest of touches on the ball as Messi took him on.

Real then had some chances of their own as Cristiano Ronaldo got off a soft shot and Bale fired a shot high.
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And the visitors were on the ascendancy after Suarez received a yellow card after his hand flailed in the face of Pepe.

Ronaldo sent a free kick over the bar from 30 yards on the half-hour mark, and before the break Benzema found himself alone in the centre of the box, but he could not bring the ball down after the pass to him took a high bounce.

As the second half began, Ramos was again fortunate to escape a second yellow card for a foul on Suarez.

Barcelona regained their form and Navas made a spectacular save to deny Messi’s chip in the 55th minute, but the breakthrough came moments later.

Following a Rakitic corner, Pique broke free of Pepe’s marking to head in Barcelona’s opening goal.

But Real Madrid were back level seven minutes later as Toni Kroos’ pass from the wing took a deflection that lofted it high in the air, and Benzema scored with an acrobatic high kick.

And Zinedine Zidane thought his team had taken the lead from Gareth Bale’s header in the 79th minute, but the goal was harshly ruled out as the referee adjudged he had pushed Jordi Alba while leaping for the ball.

Ramos was sent off in the 84th minute for going into the back of Suarez, giving Barcelona the hope they could find a winner.

But Ronaldo silenced the Camp Nou crowd a scant minute later after he controlled Bale’s lofted cross, allowed Alves to pass him by and finished through Claudio Bravo’s legs.