Real en­ter eye of po­lit­i­cal storm

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SPORT -

AF­TER watch­ing Barcelona cope ably with the dis­trac­tion of po­lit­i­cal ten­sion sweep­ing across Spain in re­cent weeks, it is Real Madrid’s turn to head into the eye of the storm to­day when they travel to Girona.

It is the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons’ first trip to Cat­alo­nia since vi­o­lence marred a sep­a­ratist called in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum for the re­gion on October 1 that has sparked weeks of po­lit­i­cal chaos.

The at­mos­phere sur­round­ing Real’s first ever top-flight visit to Girona, a heart­land of pro-in­de­pen­dence sup­port, could be fur­ther in­ten­si­fied should the Span­ish gov­ern­ment fol­low through with plans to seize Cat­alo­nia’s au­ton­o­mous pow­ers in an at­tempt to stave off a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence.

But the pro­tag­o­nists in­sist they are pre­par­ing solely with the 90 min­utes on the pitch in mind.

“We will have the se­cu­rity there as al­ways to play a foot­ball match, noth­ing more,” said Madrid coach Zine­dine Zi­dane. “We are think­ing solely about the match as al­ways and not about what could hap­pen around it.”

As is nor­mal on trips to Cat­alo­nia, Real will not use their of­fi­cial team bus for fear of reprisals.

“It won’t be the first time that this has hap­pened and there is no need to give it any fur­ther im­por­tance,” Real’s di­rec­tor of in­sti­tu­tional re­la­tions, Emilio Bu­tragueno, said. “Real Madrid are a foot­ball club and we will only talk about the foot­ball — that is all we fo­cus on, to win and to make our fans happy.”

Fresh from pick­ing up Fifa’s award for the best player of 2017, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo will be one of num­ber of Real stars to re­turn af­ter be­ing rested for Real’s Copa del Rey last 32, first leg at third-tier Fuen­labrada.

Gareth Bale once again misses out through in­jury, al­though there is hope the Welsh­man could re­turn from a calf prob­lem in time to face his old side Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur in the Cham­pi­ons League on Wed­nes­day.

Po­lit­i­cal dis­trac­tions aside, Real re­main in need of the points in Girona.

For their part, Girona pres­i­dent Delfi Geli says the match will go ahead as sched­uled de­spite re­ports it could be sus­pended due to po­lit­i­cal un­rest in Cat­alo­nia.

Lo­cal me­dia have re­ported that po­lice are con­sid­er­ing post­pon­ing the en­counter in Girona, a city based in Cat­alo­nia, for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

“We are work­ing so that the game on Sun­day (to­day) is a good one and that peo­ple can en­joy them­selves,” he said

Geli says his team is ex­cited to face the reign­ing Span­ish and Euro­pean cham­pi­ons.

“It’s a his­tor­i­cal game for us as it’s the first time we will host Real Madrid in the league. Just as it was a month ago when we hosted FC Barcelona and like­wise when we had Atletico Madrid here for our sea­son opener.

“Our only thoughts are for our re­cently pro­moted team to try to put Real Madrid on the ropes, just as we did against Barca and Atletico.

“We have lim­i­ta­tions be­ing a pro­moted side and we are play­ing against one of the best teams in Spain and the de­fend­ing league cham­pi­ons, whom we re­spect.

“We all want to en­joy a great foot­ball day. Our coach (Pablo Machin) has said he wants the game to be a foot­ball cel­e­bra­tion and that is the way we see it. It’s go­ing to be about sports and foot­ball, that’s all we are work­ing to­wards.”

Girona gained pro­mo­tion to La Liga for the first time in the club’s 87-year his­tory af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the Se­gunda Divi­sion in the 2016-17 cam­paign. AFP/ESPN

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