Camp Nou has always been the reference of Catalanism, says Crosas

Santos Laguna midfielder Marc Crosas says Camp Nou will always be the “reference point” of Catalan nationalism, as the former Barcelona youngster looks ahead to the Clasico with Real Madrid on Sunday.

Mass demonstrations were initiated in the streets of the autonomous entity during August, with reportedly up to as many as 1.5 million people marching in support of the region’s fight for independence from Spain.

A supporter of the movement, Crosas, a product of La Masia and now plying his trade in Mexico, revealed his preference at being labelled Catalan and claimed the sporting venue has born into a manifestation of the ideology.

“This is not something new. Camp Nou has always been the reference point of Catalanism and if a fan does not want to post the ballot paper because they do not feel Catalan, then they must not do it,” Crosas told Marca.

“I always hear the notion that sport and politics do not mix, but that’s one of the biggest lies I’ve ever heard. Whenever you do something in politics, it is always viewed as a mistake by someone else.

“In all places I have always been to, I have been treated as Spanish, except in Scotland, whose people have more knowledge of the Catalan conflict.

“There, if I was called Catalan. I’d always agree with them. Outside Spain, I am Spanish and Catalan. Anyway, I find them to be small matters. I’ve never bothered to call myself Spanish, but quite the opposite.

Crosas, who has twice been capped by Catalunya, never made a first-team appearance for Barca in La Liga, having been shipped out on loan to Olympique Lyonnais before being transferred to Celtic in the summer of 2008.

Nonetheless, he remains an avid supporter of Tito Vilanova‘s men and expects his previous employers to narrowly overcome their bitter rivals.

“I am Cule to the core,” he added. “Barca will win but it won’t be easy. I’ll say 3-1 because 2-1 would be too risky.

“Right now, I don’t think there is a better match at club level worldwide. It will be a great match, but it will be a very even game.

“It won’t be as open as the Supercopa, when Barca and Madrid were vastly superior at varying points over the two legs.”

Much was made about the departure of Pep Guardiola and his replacement Vilanova last summer, but Crosas feels the Blaugrana‘s continued positive results under the former assistant pays testament to the quality of the squad.

Guardiola‘s personality would be missed by any team, but [Barcelona] are working really well without him, which means that those who make the difference are the players,” he said.

“Tito is certainly not as charismatic as Guardiola, but the message is always the same.”

The Liga MX was swelled by the arrivals of Spanish-based quartet Crosas, Valdo, Raul Tamudo and Luis Garcia in the summer, but while the midfielder has flourished at Santos Laguna, the others have struggled at their respective clubs.

Nonetheless, the former Volga man is confident that his compatriots will eventually come good in the Mexican top flight.

“The truth is that, here in Mexico, I am comfortable,” Crosas claimed. “The people treat me very well and I like the championship. I would not mind being here for the next five years.

“Personally, I feel very well. At first I felt I was lacking in pace, but today I feel I have the consistency levels that I was looking for. Right now, the team is responding to the expectations we set out [at the start of the season].

“I’m surprised that Valdo, Tamudo and Luis Garcia are not getting many minutes, but I have no doubt that they will end up making a difference.

“I know Luis the most and he’s a great player like the others. [If they didn’t get much more game time], I would be a very concerned fan because I know that when these players are given a chance, they will do very well.”

'He reminds me a lot of myself' – Kopa claims Messi has edge over Ronaldo

Raymond Kopa says that while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at the same level, the Barcelona attacker’s style of play places him marginally above his Real Madrid counterpart.

The pair of Ballon d’Or nominees are widely acknowledged as the two finest footballers of their generation and will go head to head in the first Clasico of the league campaign on Sunday.

However, in the eyes of the treble European Cup winner, the Argentine forward’s similar build and dribbling ability gives him a slender advantage over the former Manchester United ace.

“They are at the same level and I really like them both. Cristiano is a leader, but as Messi is a lot like me, maybe I have a little preference for him,” Kopa told AS.

“But don’t forget what their team-mates do to help them shine. Without Xavi or Iniesta, Messi would not have it so easy and the same applies to Cristiano with [Angel] Di Maria, [Mesut] Ozil and [Karim] Benzema.

“People say that Messi is lot like me, especially because of our [diminutive] size and the way we run with the ball. It’s an honour, but I cannot compete with him and all that he has won.”

Kopa also had his say on Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and claimed the trainer’s flamboyant personality played an instrumental role in the side’s Liga triumph over Barca last season.

“Many people like to criticise you, but I like it,” he continued. “It can be tough as a coach, but [Mourinho] knows how to carry a team to victory.

“We must accept his ways because, with it, Madrid managed to win La Liga over a team as strong as Barca. I think Madrid need a coach like him, with character.”

The 80-year-old then compared the present Blancos squad to the one that he formed part of between 1956 and 1959, commenting on the significance of their successes on the continent and Ronaldo’s alleged unhappiness earlier this term.

“It is difficult to compare,” he admitted. “My Madrid was one of the best teams in history, and so is this one, but an entity capable of winning three European Cups in a row marked a legacy.

“In my day, we did not show our feelings so much, but [Cristiano’s] a great player with great power to win a match. I see the weaker team than last year, though.

“They had so much ambition to beat Barca and left their skins on the field.”

Kopa could call on likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas as colleagues of his during his glittered spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but turned down the chance to double his salary in order to return to his native France three years later.

Yet, he explained: “It was a dream to play for such a big club, where I won three European Cups, two league titles and and lost just one game in three seasons [against Atletico Madrid].

“I also played with greats like [Alfredo] Di Stefano, [Ferenc] Puskas and [Paco] Gento.

“Many ask me [why I left] and only a few people understood my reasoning. The club offered me the chance to play for two more years and earn double my salary, but I refused because I wanted to launch a sports brand.

“It was a way to secure my future after football.”

Nevertheless, despite Madrid trailing eight points behind Barca in the Primera Division standings, Kopa has every confidence that they will be able to minimise the deficit and kick-start their title defence.

“Eight points are many and, even after winning the Clasico, it will be difficult [to wipe out],” he noted. “But yes, they are great favourites. The players are smart, talented and highly motivated enough.

“I also am aware of Barcelona and I really like Iniesta, who I believe deserves to win more individual awards. However, I’d prefer to see Madrid win. They are my team.”

Croatian wonderkid Halilovic trying to ignore Manchester United and Real Madrid rumours

Dinamo Zagreb playmaker Alen Halilovic insists that he is trying to ignore rumours about a potential move to Real Madrid or Manchester United after receiving glowing reviews.

The Croatian talent is just 16 years old but is already gathering admirers from the top clubs around Europe, with the European heavyweights reportedly interested.

But, while the teenager has been likened in some circles to Barcelona star Lionel Messi, Halilovic is adamant that the comparison is exaggerated and is only focused on improving at Zagreb for the moment.

“Stories about Manchester United? I do not spend much time thinking about those ­rumours. Dinamo Zagreb will ­decide what happens,” he told reporters.

“All I have to do is try to improve as much as I can – everything else does not matter now.”

The youngster is seen as one of the most promising players to come out of Croatia since Real Madrid’s recent signing Luka Modric. And although comparisons with the likes of Messi can only be a compliment, Halilovic feels that the Argentine superstar is a one-off.

“I read in the newspapers that I look like Leo Messi when I play, but I think the comparison is simply exaggerated!” he declared.

“Messi is a role model for many young players, but I do not know if everyone can be like him.”

The world is watching: Clasico attracts a global audience of 400 million

With Olympique de Marseille hosting Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 and AC Milan taking on arch-rivals Inter in Italy, Sunday promises to be a great day of football. However, it is the Liga encounter between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou that is arguably the pick of the weekend.

The Spanish giants have met a number of times over the past few seasons, and each and every encounter offered plenty of spectacle. From superb pieces of individual skill to touchline brawls, from stunning goals to flying tackles – El Clasico generally has it all.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was quick to point out the importance of the game when asked about his side’s rivalry with Barcelona earlier this month.

When Madrid plays Barcelona, the world stops,” commented the outspoken trainer. “It is a game we love to play and it is not just us, but, surely for them also. In this sense, it is definitely more than a normal league match.

Meanwhile, his Barca colleague, Tito Vilanova, feels the Clasico is a game like any other, and is mainly focused on what the match could mean for his side’s title ambitions.

“We are just playing a football game which will determine if we are five, eight or 11 points ahead of Madrid.”

There’s no denying that there’s something special about the games between Barcelona and Real Madrid, though, which is perfectly illustrated by the impressive media attention for the meeting.

The game will broadcast live to more than 30 European, Asian, North America, South American, Central American and African countries, while 680 accredited journalists, photographers, commentators, camera people and technicians – representing 139 outlets from 28 countries – will cover the Clasico this Sunday. 

Mediapro, the company in charge of production and distribution of the TV signal for Sunday’s Clasico, will be providing 300 professionals to cover the match, with eight mobile units, including a 3D team and 34 cameras, one of which is a Super Slow Motion camera, inside the ground.

The aforementioned 680 press representatives hail from Spain, Denmark, Mexico, United Kingdom, Poland, Argentina, France, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Colombia, Italy, Croatia, Burkina Faso, The Netherlands, Serbia, Algeria, Belgium, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Qatar, Norway and United States of America.

Mediapro estimates that the game will attract a worldwide audience of 400 million, with the meeting between Barca and Madrid being shown live in more than 30 countries on well-known channels such as Sky Sports, Al Jazeera Sports and ESPN.

More than 20 TV companies from all over the world have applied to personalise the production, which is a new record, and in total 30 international TV stations will be showing the match.

The game will be broadcast across the globe in Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Central America and Africa; from China to the USA, in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mexico and many more countries. 

Fans around the globe will thus be assured that they will not miss a single moment when the eternal rivals lock horns for the third time this season. It’s now up to the players to live up to the high expectations, and once more put on another breathtaking show.

Ronaldo seeks unprecedented sixth successive strike against Barcelona as Messi goes for all-time Clasico scoring record

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dine apart from the rest, Pep Guardiola once said. On Sunday night, the world’s two finest footballers renew their rivalry at Camp Nou in Spain’s premier partido – the Clasico. And whatever the result, both men have the opportunity to carve their names deeper into the history of the famous fixture.

Score on Sunday and Ronaldo will become the first player ever to net six successive strikes in the Clasico. Just 18 months ago, the Portuguese was still seeking his first goal against Barcelona, having failed to convert against the Catalans for either Manchester United or Real Madrid. But Ronaldo now has eight strikes against Barca, including the winner in the final of the Copa del Rey in April 2011, four in his last four at Camp Nou (a new record for a Real player in itself) and five from the last five fixtures overall.That last stat sees him tied with Madrid’s former Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano – the only other player to have netted in five successive Clasico clashes. A goal on Sunday, then, will see the Portuguese write his name into the record books once again as he’ll become the first footballer to score in six successive Clasico matches.

And Ronaldo comes into the game in red-hot form, having hit back-to-back hat-tricks against Deportivo La Coruna and Ajax prior to this game, taking his total for the season to 12 already. Since joining Madrid in the summer of 2009, the Portuguese has struck 158 goals in 154 matches for the club and is now ninth in the club’s list of all-time goalscorers.

Now in his fourth season at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldo still has some way to go before he can make an impression on the list of all-time top scorers in the Clasico, however.

That list is topped by Madrid’s honorary president, Alfredo Di Stefano, with 18 goals, with Raul and Messi sharing second spot at the moment with 15 apiece.

Messi, however, is clearly not finished yet and the Argentine needs just three more to equal the mark set by his countryman Di Stefano.

The 25-year-old has failed to score for his last three matches, but has 10 goals to his name this term already and has turned provider for Barcelona lately, setting up four of the Catalans’ five strikes against Sevilla and Benfica over the last week.

To draw level with Di Stefano on Sunday, Messi must score three and although the odds will be against a triple treat for the Rosario-born forward at Camp Nou in this particular clash, Leo was the last player to score a hat-trick in the fixture – in the entertaining 3-3 draw in Barcelona five years ago. 

With the Argentine continually claiming he wants to remain at Camp Nou for many years to come, it appears only a matter of time before he does break the record, having already become Barcelona’s all-time top scorer and their most prolific Clasico converter as well – overtaking legendary forward Cesar Rodriguez to surpass both of those marks.

Messi, who has scored 54 times for the Catalan club in 2012, needs just two more to make it 150 for Barcelona at Camp Nou. And he has beaten Madrid’s Iker Casillas more than any other goalkeeper, 16 times in total – 15 in the Clasico and once for Argentina against Spain.Last season, Messi ended the season with a record 73 goals, surpassing Gerd Muller’s long-standing mark. The Argentine also picked up four more trophies for Barca, but missed out on the two he wanted most – La Liga and the Champions League.

Only last week he claimed he is not interested in scoring goals, as long as the team wins, and he will be desperate to regain the major trophies in 2012-13.

And while he may not have netted in the last three games, it is worth remembering that he also failed to do so in Jose Mourinho’s first Clasico clash back in November 2010 – and that worked out rather well for Barca as the Catalans ran out 5-0 winners, inflicting upon the Portuguese his worst-ever defeat.

More often than not, however, Messi has been on target in the famous fixture and, in recent times, so has Ronaldo. And with another league game between the two teams to come after this one, plus possible Clasico clashes in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League as well in 2012-13 and more meetings in future, these two look likely to carry on breaking records in the fixture for some time to come.

So Pep was right; and even when it comes to the Clasico, Messi and Ronaldo dine apart from the rest.

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