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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Barcelona crush Las Palmas behind closed doors on day of Catalan referendum

Primera Liga giants beat visitors 3-0 at Camp Nou

Lionel Messi  led his Barcelona side to victory in front of a largely empty stadium on Sunday. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo
Lionel Messi led his Barcelona side to victory in front of a largely empty stadium on Sunday. Manu Fernandez / AP Photo

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona beat Las Palmas 3-0 in a match played behind closed doors after the Spanish league refused Barca's plea to postpone the game on the day of the highly-charged Catalonia referendum.

At least 91 people were injured as Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations over the independence vote deemed illegal by the Spanish government on Sunday.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club made the decision to play behind closed doors as a protest against the violent clashes rather than security concerns.

"FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression," Barcelona said in a statement.

"We have done it behind closed doors so that everyone can see our opposition at what is happening," added Bartomeu.

In a statement, the Primera Liga Liga insisted "there was no motive for the game to be abandoned".

Had Barca refused to play the game they could have faced a three-point deduction from the Primera Liga on top of forfeiting the match against Las Palmas.

"La Liga's refusal to cancel the game and play it another day... would mean the loss of six points for the team," Bartomeu said.

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A section of Barcelona fans' groups had threatened a peaceful pitch invasion to show their disgust at events at the polling stations if the game was not suspended.

Indeed, despite the closure of the stadium, one fan did make it onto the pitch after Barca's second goal before being quickly hauled off by stewards.

Huge queues of fans waited outside the 99,000 capacity Camp Nou for hours until a final decision was made less than 30 minutes before kick-off.

A Barca spokesperson confirmed that all fans who bought tickets would be reimbursed.

The match itself was an understandably low key affair as Barca opened up a five-point lead at the top of the Primera Liga and moved 10 points clear of Real Madrid, who host Espanyol later on Sunday.

Barca's players entered the field wearing a training top in the colours of the Catalan Senyera flag over their traditional blue and red home kit.

Meanwhile, Las Palmas wore a small Spanish flag on their shirts as a show of support for a united Spain.

However, all the off-field distractions seemed to affect the hosts in the first half as Jonathan Calleri came closest to opening the scoring when he hit the post for Las Palmas.

Sergio Busquets, a Catalan and World Cup winner with Spain, settled Barca early in the second half by heading home the opener from Messi's corner.

Messi then took over himself as he calmly rounded Leandro Chichizola from Denis Suarez's excellent pass to make it 2-0.

And the five-time World Player of the Year then smashed home Luis Suarez's through ball for already his 14th goal of the season.

According to Spanish media reports, Barca vice-president Carles Vilarrubi has resigned over the club's decision to play the game.

Outspoken Barca defender Gerard Pique posted a picture of him casting his vote early on Sunday.