Barcelona fans show their support for Catalonian independence in a match against Valencia earlier this year.
Barcelona fans show their support for Catalonian independence in a match against Valencia earlier this year.

A break from the norm in Catalonia

European football's winter break can seem desolate for the diehard supporter: vacant weekends, empty stadiums and only a trickle of speculation on what the transfer window might bring in to, or take out from, your favourite club. Germany's Bundesliga has three more weeks of holiday, France's Ligue 1 another two. Italy's Serie A and Spain's Primera Liga resume in seven days.

But there is significant action, at least in corners of Spain, over the coming days. In San Sebastian this evening, as little as €15 (Dh73) buys a ticket to a prestige encounter featuring a World Cup-winning star, and several Athletic Bilbao players who took part in the last Europa League final.

There should be a decent crowd at the Anoeta Stadium. Four days later, in Barcelona, tickets to watch several of the finest footballers in the world are going for as little as €8.

Catalonia against Nigeria, on Wednesday, and today's meeting between the Basque Country and Bolivia, are part of a unique Iberian tradition, friendly matches with a passionate edge, at least for some spectators, that take place around Christmas and New Year.

For some, watching their regional teams, waving Catalan or Basque flags, means imagining a future in which the federal state that is Spain will be made up of independent countries, with their own national football teams. For others, these fixtures are simply a happy celebration of locale.

Eight of Barcelona's current squad have been called up by the honorary coach of Catalonia, Johan Cruyff, for the visit by Nigeria to Espanyol's Cornella Stadium. Of the senior Spain internationals employed by Barca, only Pedro, Andres Iniesta and David Villa are not Catalans by birth.

Ask the players who are if they see any contradiction of representing Catalonia as well as Spain, and they answer diplomatically that the two things can comfortably coexist.

But separatism in Catalonian society is a hot political issue, and although a once-a-year State-of-Origin match ought not to inflame tensions, it has done in the past.

It certainly encourages some local chest beating. If Catalonia existed as a nation under Fifa, the question poses itself: might they win a World Cup?

Seven Catalans - Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Joan Capdevila, Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas - did so with Spain in 2010. Might an independent Basque Country squad challenge for a European Championship? Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso -who will be playing in his Basque jersey in his hometown for tonight's match against Bolivia - Arsenal's Mikel Arteta and Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez would certainly form an impressive midfield.

Nobody fears such a break-up is imminent, although the central government of Spain worries that the recent progress of Gibraltar's long campaign for sporting autonomy within Uefa - the tiny territory, part of Iberia but governed by Britain, has been allowed to compete independently in the next Euro Under 17 and U19 Championships - might provide a precedent for Catalonia's long-term ambitions for something similar.

On Europe's political atlas, borders can alter quickly. Twenty-five years ago, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia were all represented by the national team of Yugoslavia. Kosovo is now pressing vigorously to add its name to Uefa's roster of sovereign national teams.

In another 25 years, Europe could look very different. Its football championship could feature quirky fixtures like, say, Wallonia - where there is a significant political lobby for independence from Belgium, or at least from the Flemish part of that country - against Brittany; or Kosovo versus a newly independent Corsica.

All of whom would probably welcome the possibility of a Spain broken up into separate states and teams, diluting the power the united Spanish now exert over most international competitions.


All kick-off times 10.45pm UAE (+4 GMT)

Mairobr v Liverpool
Spartak Moscow v Sevilla
Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk
Manchester City v Napoli
Monaco v Besiktas
RB Leipzig v Porto
Apoel Nicosia v Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Benfica v Manchester United
CSKA Moscow v Basel
Bayern Munich v Celtic
Anderlecht v Paris Saint-Germain
Qarabag v Atletico Madrid
Chelsea v Roma
Barcelona v Olympiakos
Juventus v Sporting Lisbon

As You Were

Liam Gallagher

(Warner Bros)


6.30pm: Mazrat Al Ruwayah (PA) | Group 2 | US$55,000 (Dirt) | 1,600 metres

7.05pm: Meydan Sprint (TB) | Group 2 | $250,000 (Turf) | 1,000m

7.40pm: Firebreak Stakes | Group 3 | $200,000 (D) | 1,600m

8.15pm: Meydan Trophy | Conditions (TB) | $100,000 (T) | 1,900m

8.50pm: Balanchine | Group 2 (TB) | $250,000 (T) | 1,800m

9.25pm: Handicap (TB) | $135,000 (D) | 1,200m

10pm: Handicap (TB) | $175,000 (T) | 2,410m.


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
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Investment stage: Series A
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