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Catalonia crisis: Messi and Co play league match in an empty stadium

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-0 win over Las Palmas on Sunday in a Liga match played without fans following clashes between police and voters in Catalonia over a banned independence referendum.

In the late game, Real Madrid earned their first home league victory of the season by beating Espanyol 2-0 with a goal in each half by midfielder Isco, while Valencia moved up to third in the standings after beating visitors Athletic Bilbao 3-2.

League leaders Barca tried to have their game postponed, but the request was turned down by La Liga and the Catalan club announced 25 minutes before kickoff that the game would be played behind closed doors.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the stadium was closed to show opposition to police violence against voters in Catalonia’s independence referendum, which was banned by the national government, and not over safety concerns. Gerard Pique broke down in tears describing Barcelona`s 3-0 win over Las Palmas in an empty stadium as the “worst professional experience” of his life on a chaotic Sunday in Catalonia.

At least 92 people were injured as Spanish riot police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into activist-held polling stations over an independence referendum for the north-eastern region of Spain deemed illegal by the Spanish government.

After Barcelona`s attempt to have their game abandoned was dismissed by Spanish league authorities, Barca decided to play behind closed doors in protest at the violent scenes.

“The board tried to cancel the game but it wasn`t possible. They came down to speak to the players and we opted to play,” Pique told reporters.

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