SPORTS & SELF-DETERMINATION: Catalonia Football team to play in FIFA window for the first time ever, FC Barcelona stars Pique and Xavi to play

24 March 2019
[Top] The presentation for the friendly fixture with top officials on Monday, 18th March, 2019. [L-R] Barça legends Gerard Piqué and Xavi Hernandez to play for Catalonia in showpiece Venezuela friendly


Catalonia National football team is this Monday scheduled to feature in FIFA window for the first time ever against Venezuela in a FIFA sanctioned international friendly, the Catalan News has reported. The Catalan men's XI are now preparing for their most important fixture in a decade

And former Spain internationals and FC Barcelona football star Gerard Pique, who stepped down from Spanish national team duty after last year’s World Cup, and FC Barcelona football legend, Xavi Hernandez will represent the region in which they were born.

Other familiar names in the squad include Stoke City’s Bojan Krkic, Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Marc Bartra of Real Betis.

After 26 months on the sidelines, Catalonia's clash with Venezuela on Monday will be the first match in their history to be held within the official FIFA window for international friendly matches.

Whatever the result in Monday’s fixture, the match itself is a major victory for the Catalan Football Federation – whose national teams are not yet recognized by football's global governing body, FIFA, and so cannot qualify for the World Cup or European Championships, despite their ample supply of football talent.

The Catalans took part in blockbuster fixtures in the early 2000s against Argentina and Brazil – featuring future world champions such as Cesc Fàbregas, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets – and were even coached for several years by Barcelona and Ajax legend Johan Cruyff.

The inability to coincide with the FIFA calendar, however, meant that players began to find it difficult to make time for the team alongside their growing club football commitments, and they were effectively put on hiatus by their federation following a draw with Tunisia in 2016.


Yet, all that is about to change, when a new generation of Catalan stars take on world No. 32 Venezuela – on the same night as the likes of England, France and Portugal are playing.

Whilst it has been billed as Catalan football's "event of the year", most consider it their biggest occasion since 2009: a 4-2 win against an Argentine side including Angel Di María and Javier Pastore at Barcelona's Camp Nou, in what was then the International Catalan Trophy.

The Catalan government spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, has said that "there will be a special bond between the players and the supporters", with some suggesting that the political developments in Catalonia over the past two years might add an extra dose of passion to the spectacle.


Meanwhile, for Venezuela, whose squad includes several La Liga players, as well as Newcastle United striker Salomón Rondón, the game is a significant step in their build-up to this summer's Copa América, and will follow another friendly against Argentina in Madrid this Thursday.

Catalonia head coach Gerard López announced his squad on Wednesday.

Head coach Gerard López had a wider range of personnel to choose from than for previous fixtures, as for the first time in their history, Catalonia have been granted permission to play during an official FIFA window.

Piqué, 32, who retired from his Spain commitments last summer but remains a first-choice centre-back for Barça, will make a return to international football for the one-off game against the Copa América participants.

Meanwhile Xavi, 39, Barcelona's all-time top appearances-holder, will enjoy a rare outing back on the pitch in his native country, having spent the last four seasons playing in the Qatari league with Doha side Al Sadd SC.


"Xavi and Piqué are two hugely important names for the success of the match and because of everything they represent," said López. "Their appearance is a big plus to help us fill the stadium and to put on a great show."

The Blaugrana greats will be joined at Girona FC's 14,000-seater Montilivi Stadium by a mixture of more global talent and local heroes, including a number of players who will be familiar to followers of English football.

Stoke City striker Bojan Krkic, Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu and Brighton & Hove Albion defender Martín Montoya, as well as Manchester City loanee Aleix García, make up the Premier League contingent.

García, currently at Girona, will be one of a quartet of players on home turf, plus Álex Granell, Pere Pons and Marc Muniesa.

Other notable names from the Spanish La Liga include former Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund defender Marc Bartra, now at Real Betis, alongside Sevilla right-back Aleix Vidal, previously of Barcelona and Espanyol.


However, relegation-threatened clubs Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano did not give their Catalan players permission to be called up, citing the need to "prioritize" their own interests and avoid the risk of injuries.

Likewise, Spain internationals such as Barcelona trio Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets, will not be available due to their participation in Euro 2020 qualification for Luis Enrique's side.

Monday's match kicks off at 9pm at Girona FC's 14,000-seater Montilivi Stadium. Tickets are available for €10 each, with seating available in Catalan, Venezuelan and neutral areas.


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