Spain readies for World Cup qualifier with team backing Catalan Piquet

October 4 – Spain’s players say they are focused solely on Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Albania and that they are getting tired of being asked about teammate Gerard Pique’s outspoken stance on the independence referendum in Catalonia.

“We see Gerard as he’s always been, with the same commitment as ever,” Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara told a press conference. “(The situation) saddens us because we come here to talk about football. We do not speak about external things, each person has opinions. We’re here to speak about the team and to do the best we can to ensure our qualification for the World Cup. We’re all here pulling in the same direction to get ourselves qualified.”

Barcelona’s Pique has been an outspoken defender of the Catalonia’s right to self-determination and on Sunday cast his vote in a referendum deemed illegal by authorities in Madrid and which was marred by clashes between voters and security forces left more than 90 people injured.

Despite playing a crucial role in the Spain side that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Pique was jeered when he turned up for training this week ahead of the last batch of qualifiers for 2018 amid chants of ‘Pique leave the national team!’

He has already stated his intent to retire from international football after next year’s World Cup but has volunteered to step down earlier if his political stance is deemed to be a problem.

“Everyone is in the squad on their sporting merits,” insisted Thiago while teammate Koke said he was “already tiring of the subject” of the referendum,

The Atletico Madrid midfielder declared: “We’re professionals and we think about what we have to do, which is playing football. The changing room atmosphere has been the same as ever, we’re all focused on the important game against Albania, we want to win and all but seal our qualification.”

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