After 26 months on the sidelines, Catalonia’s clash with Venezuela on Monday 25 will be the first match in their history to be held within the official FIFA window for international friendlies. Whatever the result, this is already a major victory for the Catalan Football Federation – whose national teams are not recognized by football’s global governing body, and so cannot qualify for the World Cup or European Championships, despite their ample supply of footballing talent. Next Monday’s match kicks off at 9pm at Girona FC’s 14,000-seater Montilivi Stadium.
The Catalans took part in blockbuster fixtures in the early 2000s against Argentina and Brazil – featuring future world champions such as Cesc Fàbregas, Carles Puyol and Sergi Busquets – and were even coached for several years by Barcelona and Ajax legend Johan Cruyff. The inability to coincide with the FIFA calendar, however, meant that players began to find it difficult to make time for the team alongside their growing club football commitments, and they were effectively put on hiatus by their federation following a draw with Tunisia in 2016.
Yet, all that is about to change, when a new generation of Catalan stars take on world No. 32 Venezuela – on the same night as the likes of England, France and Portugal are playing. Whilst it has been billed as Catalan football’s “event of the year”, most consider it their biggest occasion since 2009: a 4-2 win against an Argentine side including Angel Di María and Javier Pastore at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, in what was then the International Catalan Trophy.
More than just sports
The Catalan government spokesperson, Elsa Artadi, has said that “there will be a special bond between the players and the supporters”, with some suggesting that the political developments in Catalonia over the past two years might add an extra dose of passion to the spectacle.
Meanwhile, for Venezuela, whose squad includes several La Liga players, as well as Newcastle United striker Salomón Rondón, the game is a significant step in their build-up to this summer’s Copa América, and will follow another friendly against Argentina in Madrid this Thursday. Catalonia head coach Gerard López is set to announce his squad on Wednesday. It is expected to include local heroes, such as Àlex Granell and Pere Pons, and global stars Gerard Piqué and Xavi Hernández, who would be making a rare appearance on the pitch in Catalonia since he left Barcelona in 2015. Other world-class Catalans such as Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto will be unavailable, however, having been called up to play in Euro 2020 qualifiers next week for the Spanish team.