BARCELONA, Aug 21, (AFP): Barcelona got their La Liga season off to a winning start on Sunday, beating Real Betis 2-0 at a emotional Camp Nou following a pair of terrorist attacks in Catalonia.
Twin vehicle attacks on Thursday killed 14 people and wounded around 120 in Barcelona’s bustling Las Ramblas boulevard and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.
A minute’s silence was held before kick-off, whilst Barcelona players wore black armbands and shirts with ‘Barcelona’ replacing individual names on the back.
“What happened was terrible, we hope this stops now because we are not afraid,” Barca winger Gerard Deulofeu, who set up both goals, told BeIN Sports Spain. “This victory is for those affected.”
The decision for the match to go ahead with increased security measures put in place was part of a desire to “recover normality” in the words of Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont.
A defiant attitude was on show in the stands, although in common with many matches against weaker opposition, the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou was far from full.
After the attack some fans, especially tourists, returned their tickets, the club said without giving figures.
Fans in the Barca singing section borrowed a line from the club’s anthem in a banner that read: “No one can ever break us,” whilst chants of “we are not afraid” rang out after the minute’s silence.
“We can’t live with fear, which is exactly the mentality that these situations normally cause and people don’t want to leave the house,” said Vanessa Hano, 28, an American Barcelona resident.
Coach Ernesto Valverde admitted on Saturday events in the past few days had put the club’s problems into perspective.
However, despite also missing the injured Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta, Barca rose to the challenge of raising the city’s spirits with a dominant display.
With the mayor of Cambrils Cami Mendoza and chiefs of Catalonia’s regional police force among those watching on, captain Lionel Messi led by example with Deolofeu and Paco Alcacer struggling to fill Suarez and Neymar’s shoes up front.
Messi smashed an early free-kick off the post and his presence was enough to pressure Alin Tosca to turn Deulofeu’s low cross into his own net for the opener nine minutes before half-time.
Deulofeu was the provider once more when Barca doubled their advantage three minutes later as Sergi Roberto slotted home from close range.
Messi also posed the biggest threat of a low key second-half as he struck the woodwork twice more with rasping shots from outside the area.
Real Madrid’s winning streak shows no signs of abating as the European champions began their defence of La Liga with a comfortable 3-0 win at Deportivo la Coruna.
Gareth Bale, Casemiro and Toni Kroos were on target for the visitors, but Madrid’s night at La Riazor ended on a sour note when captain Sergio Ramos was shown the 23rd red card of his Real career. Ramos could have been dismissed earlier in the second-half when he only received a yellow card for a slap on Deportivo defender Fabian Schar.
However, he tied a record for 18 red cards in La Liga with a second booking for an elbow on Borja Valle in the dying embers of the match.
Deportivo were left to rue two big opportunities missed by Florin Andone in the first 10 minutes, whilst the Romanian international also saw a late penalty saved by Keylor Navas.
Zidane made four changes from the side that completed a 5-1 aggregate hammering of Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday.
Victory in midweek sealed a fourth trophy for Zidane’s men in as many months after lifting La Liga, the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup.
However, far from their invincible form of late, Real were lucky to escape unpunished from a slow start.
Navas flew to his left to turn Andone’s first effort from a narrow angle to safety, but should have been beaten when the forward fired straight at the Costa Rican when clean through moments later.
There was no way back for Deportivo once Madrid took the lead on 20 minutes as Bale pounced on Karim Benzema’s scuffed shot to fire into an unguarded net for his first goal of the season.
A wonderfully worked team goal followed six minutes later as Real moved the ball all over the pitch before Marcelo’s low cross was turned home by Casemiro. Bale turned provider for Real’s third just after the hour mark as Kroos’s deflected effort from the edge of the box found the top corner.
Andone missed another chance for a consolation when his poorly hit spot-kick was easily turned behind by Navas two minutes from time before Ramos saw red.