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Amid Political Tensions, Visiting Barcelona Bests Real Madrid


Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and teammates applaud the fans at the end of the club's soccer match with Real Madrid in Madrid, Dec. 23, 2017.

Spectators at the home stadium of Real Madrid saw its team's hopes to keep La Liga title fade away Saturday as Barcelona rolled to a 3-0 El Clasico victory, opening a 14-point lead over the current champions.

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Aleix Vidal each scored, while Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema missed first-half chances.

"They did really well in the second half. The first half was terrible, in my opinion. They [Barcelona] had very little possession [of the ball]," Joe Villanueva, a Barcelona fan, told VOA.

Barcelona's win, however, went beyond the European soccer classic. The soccer match came two days after elections in Catalonia in which separatist parties claimed a majority of the votes. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and its largest city, while Madrid is Spain's capital.

Saturday's El Clasico was the first meeting between Madrid and Barca since the banned October referendum on Catalan independence.

Club allegiances do not necessarily dictate political opinions. Still, Villanueva thought they would play a bigger role in the match.

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"I thought the match would get ugly, especially after they were down 2-0 and they had a player down," he said. "I thought it would get ugly, but they were composed. Both sides were composed. Usually Real Madrid gets pretty rowdy, especially when they're losing, but they did well."

'An infinite stalemate'

After the political convulsions of the past three months, Catalonia and Spain are back to square one, said Xabier Barrena, a political columnist for the El Periodico newspaper.

"Catalonia is living in an infinite stalemate. There was a considerable increase in participation in the parliamentary elections this time, and despite this, the result is the same as in 2015. Both then and now, the solution must be a legitimate referendum," Barrena said.

The most likely election outcome remains a coalition of the three pro-independence parties, but their options appear limited, Barrena said. "Any unilateral declaration [of independence] would elicit a violent response from the state," he said. "So they will avoid that course."

In the meantime, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said a long stretch of the season remained.

"The league isn't finished. We haven't even completed the first half of the season," Valverde said.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane acknowledged it was a defeat "that hurts."

"Madrid never gives up, whatever happens," he said. "It is a difficult moment because we've lost by three goals. I could say we don't deserve it, but that is football."

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