x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Real Madrid complaint a disgrace, says Barca's Xavi

The Barcelona star hits out at tonight's opponents, while Jose Mourinho, whose side must overturn a 2-0 deficit at Camp Nou, refuses to talk to media.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, warms-up beside coach Jose Mourinho at training yesterday.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, warms-up beside coach Jose Mourinho at training yesterday.

BARCELONA // When Barcelona's Xavi speaks, it is safe to assume that he is echoing the words of his master Pep Guardiola.

The sublime midfielder is the most cerebral and engaging of Barca's stars.

Catch him in the right mood and he will usher away requests to stop talking from club officials as he enthuses about his passion: football. Xavi tells it like he sees it with Barca's great rivals Real Madrid.

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Not for him are clichés or platitudes, but honest assessments. He predicted that Barca would beat Real twice last season before the games and explained why. Some viewed it as arrogance, yet he was correct on both occasions.

Xavi was Barca's chosen player to speak to the media ahead of tonight's Champions League semi-final second leg against Real at Camp Nou and the press room was so busy that Barca had to open up a separate annex for the first time in the club's history.

Xavi got straight to the point and only added to the tension and ill feeling that has surrounded the four encounters.

"I love playing against Real and I love playing in these big games," he said. "They are very exciting challenges, but the complaint from Real was a disgrace and it's logical Uefa have rejected it".

Real had reported the Spanish champions to Uefa for "unsportsmanlike behaviour" after last week's 2-0 home defeat.

Uefa yesterday rejected the protest - and Barca's protest against Jose Mourinho for his post-match comments. Uefa's disciplinary committee will on Friday examine five charges against Real - including one relating to Mourinho's sending-off and another in regard to his post-match comments - and one charge against Barca following substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto's red card during a half-time melee.

Few would be surprised if tonight's match is devoid of the controversy which has enveloped the three encounters between the clubs in the past 17 days.

Even Barca's own television station has been promoting the game using the music from Band of Brothers, an acclaimed American mini series about the attacking exploits of Easy Company in the Second World War.

The undertone is clear - this is far more than a football match. "I have the feeling that we are talking very little about football and that makes me sad," said Xavi, who also criticised the state of Real's pitch.

"But we will try to dominate possession, that's the key. We have to be superior again."

We have to be true to our philosophy and we'll try to enjoy the game, make the people enjoy it and achieve our objective, which is getting to the final at Wembley [Stadium]."

Xavi's parents would not let him attend Wembley Stadium as a fan when the Catalans won their first ever European Cup in 1992, but his older siblings were in London and it has rankled since.

Barca were boosted by the presence of Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta in training yesterday.

They were joined by French defender Eric Abidal, who was given a round of applause by teammates in his first session back after an operation to remove a tumour in liver.

Incredibly, Abidal has been named in the 19-man squad with Iniesta and Puyol and Barca have far fewer selection worries than Real.

Mourinho refused to speak to the media and instead dispatched his assistant Aitor Karanka. The controversial Real coach is banished from the bench after being sent off last week and will sit in the stands.

His assistant appeared to have been briefed by his boss, who is reeling that Pepe and Sergio Ramos are banned from tonight's game.

"There will be players on field tomorrow who do not respect fair play," said Karanka, before adding that a Barca player had made racist comments to a Real player in last week's clash. He wouldn't say who.

Asked if Real can overturn the 2-0 deficit and reach the Wembley final, Karanka said: "Real Madrid has 109 years of history and will fight until the very end."

sports@thenational.ae