Football

Messi fires Barca to victory in empty Nou Camp

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

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 kick-off 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.

On Sunday, Spanish riot police charged into polling stations across Catalonia to try to halt the referendum on a split from Spain and Catalan officials said more than 800 people were injured in the crackdown.

Outspoken Barca defender Gerard Pique, who posted a picture of him casting his vote early on Sunday, was in tears at the end of the match.

"It was the worst professional experience I have had in my life," he told reporters.

Barca's Sergio Busquets scored for the first time in the league in three seasons to give the hosts the lead in the 49th minute, leaping to head in a curling corner from Messi.

Argentinian Messi then struck his 10th league goal of the season to double Barca's advantage in the 70th minute before adding a second seven minutes later to seal Barca's seventh straight league win this season and maintaining their perfect start in La Liga and the Champions League.

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

Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola yesterday expressed dismay at the violence that marred Catalonia's independence vote, which he said should have led the club to postpone their match against Las Palmas.

"Barcelona against Las Palmas should never have been played, not at all," Catalonia-born Guardiola, now manager of Manchester City, told Catalan radio station RAC1.

"In Catalonia, they have injured a lot of people, people who only went to schools to vote.

"The images are not deceptive. There were people who went to vote and they were violently attacked."

Meanwhile, Real Madrid earned their first home league victory of the season by beating Espanyol 2-0 with a brace from midfielder Isco, while Valencia moved up to third in the table after beating visitors Athletic Bilbao 3-2. - WIRE SERVICES

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