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Spain team focus on WCup, not Catalonia — Thiago

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

MADRID, Spain (AFP) — Spain's players are “focused” solely on Friday's World Cup qualifier against Albania, Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara has insisted, adding that players were tired of being asked about teammate Gerard Pique's outspoken stance on the independence referendum in Catalonia.

“As for Gerard, we see him as he's always been — with the same commitment as ever and the same happiness, even in the changing room,” said Thiago at a press conference with teammate Koke.

“We're sorry because we came here to play football, I didn't come here to talk about anybody's life, Koke's or mine; we came here to play football.”

Barcelona's Pique has been an outspoken defender of the wealthy north-eastern Spanish region's right to self-determination, and on Sunday cast his vote in a referendum deemed illegal by Madrid that was scarred by clashes between voters and security forces.

And the player's latest declarations have once again raised the debate over his role in the Spanish national team.

Despite being a crucial part of the Spain sides that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Pique is routinely jeered when representing his country.

Those jeers intensified in front of just a few hundred fans at an opening training session on Monday 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 insisted he could step aside sooner if Spain coach Julen Lopetegui or the federation believe his political stance to be problematic.

Teammate Koke said he was “already tiring of the subject” of the referendum, clashes which left more than 90 people injured, according to Catalan authorities.

“It's always talking about the same thing,” the Atletico Madrid midfielder said. “But we're professionals and we think about what we have to do, which is playing football.”