Another Barcelona legend is heading for the Camp Nou exit door after Gerard Pique announced he is set to retire after this weekend's LaLiga clash with Almeria at the age of 35.

Widely considered one of the best defenders of his generation, Pique is also one of the most decorated with the World Cup, Champions League and European Championship among his envious list of honours, which also includes eight LaLiga titles.

The centre-half has racked up a whopping 615 appearances for Barcelona across all competitions, while his international cap tally with Spain also surpassed triple figures.

Pique has fallen down the Blaugrana pecking order in recent times and was booed by the home fans at Camp Nou during the 3-0 win over Villarreal last month, with head coach Xavi and former team-mate Andres Iniesta leaping to his defence.

But despite a somewhat sour ending to his lengthy association with Barca, Pique remains an integral figure in arguably the greatest period in the club's history. Here, we take a closer look at some of his career highlights.

The 2008-09 Treble

Though he progressed through Barcelona's youth ranks, Pique departed for Manchester United in 2004, only to return to the Blaugrana four years later.

One of the first signings of the Pep Guardiola era, he would form a wonderful partnership alongside veteran Carles Puyol in the heart of defence, while notably scoring during the memorable 6-2 rout of Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu.

Pique racked up 45 appearances across all competitions during his maiden season as Barca became the first Spanish side to win the treble after landing the LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles.

World and European champion

Pique's solid displays at club level culminated in a senior international debut during Spain's 2-0 victory over England in February 2009.

He quickly established himself alongside Puyol as the reigning European champions' first-choice centre-half, and started all seven matches the following year as La Roja secured their first World Cup triumph in South Africa.

Then, partnered with Sergio Ramos, Pique played every minute in Poland and Ukraine two years later as Vicente Del Bosque's side completed a hat-trick of major international titles by successfully defending their European crown.

Having conceded just one goal in six games, he was one of three Spain players named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

The 2014-15 Treble

Pique endured his first trophyless season at Barca under Tata Martino in 2013-14 - the Blaugrana conceding the LaLiga title to Atletico Madrid following a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou on the final day of the campaign.

Nevertheless, the defender signed a new contract with the club who, under the new guidance of Luis Enrique, regained their domestic crown with a match to spare, before capturing the Copa del Rey with victory over Athletic Bilbao.

The Catalan Giants then put Juventus to the sword 3-1 in the Champions League showpiece to become the first team to win the treble twice; Pique among a handful of players involved in both sides.

Spain centurion

Spanish dominance on the international stage eventually came to an end following early World Cup exits in 2014 and 2018, as well as Euro 2016.

Nevertheless, Pique remained an integral part of the side and reached a significant milestone during the 2018 finals, earning his 100th cap as La Roja beat Iran 1-0.

The defender, who retired from international duty after defeat by Russia in the last 16, remains one of only 13 Spanish players to reach triple figures.

600 up for Barca

Despite taking his LaLiga title tally to eight, Pique's final few seasons at Barca have been blighted by injury, while he has also fallen down the pecking order under former team-mate Xavi.

However, the centre-half continued to clock up the career milestones, including his 600th Blaugrana appearance during the 4-0 win over Osasuna in March.

Pique became the fifth player - and first defender - to reach that mark for the club, after Lionel Messi (778), Xavi (767), Sergio Busquets (694) and Andres Iniesta (674).

Patrick Kluivert and Aymeric Laporte were among the leading names to pay tribute to Gerard Pique after the Barcelona and Spain great announced he is to retire.

The 35-year-old confirmed on Thursday that Barca's clash at Camp Nou with Almeria on Saturday will be his last appearance for the Blaugrana.

World Cup and European Championship winner Pique calls an end to his career with eight LaLiga titles and three Champions League crowns from his time with the Catalan giants.

Former Barca forward Kluivert outlined his appreciation for the centre-back, posting "Thanks for everything".

Fellow Spain defender Laporte echoed a similar sentiment with a message stating: "You are great! Thank you", while Barca team-mate Ferran Torres hailed Pique as "the best".

Giuseppe Rossi played with Pique at Manchester United before the Spaniard returned to his homeland in 2008 and labelled his former team-mate as "number one".

The former Italy international posted: "A pleasure to share [the] locker room and the field together! You are number Rossi's 1 Gerry! A big hug. Enjoy you deserve it."

Legendary centre-back Fabio Cannavaro, along with Rafinha and Javier Mascherano, posted a series of heart emojis and raised hands to applaud Pique.

Ivan Rakitic, another ex-Blaugrana colleague, added: "Always on my team", while Spain goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga followed suit by calling Pique a "legend" with a heart emoji.

Gerard Pique has announced he will retire at the age of 35 and Barcelona's match against Almeria on Saturday will be his last at Camp Nou.

The defender established himself as a Barca and Spain legend after returning to his homeland from Manchester United in 2008.

Pique has fallen out of favour under Xavi this season and the centre-back on Thursday revealed that he has decided to call time on his illustrious career.

He has won eight LaLiga titles and the Champions League three times during his time with the Catalan giants, while he has also lifted the FIFA Club World Cup on three occasions and the Copa del Rey seven times.

Pique also experienced glory at international level, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship two years later as a key member of a magnificent Spain side.

Pique was booed by Barcelona fans at Camp Nou in the recent 3-0 victory over Villarreal, with head coach Xavi and former team-mate Andres Iniesta both defending him afterwards.

The negative reaction was believed to be down to Pique's part in the costly 3-3 Champions League draw with Inter, and he referenced the discussion around him in his announcement.

In a video posted on his social media, Pique said: "The last few weeks, months, lots of people have been talking about me.

"Until now, I haven't said anything. But now, I want to be the one talking about me.

"Like many of you, I've always been a Barca fan. I was born into a football-loving family of Barca fans. From a very young age I didn't want to become a football player, I wanted to be a Barca player.

"I've been thinking a lot about that kid recently, about what little Gerard would have thought if he'd been told that all his dreams would come true. That he would make it to Barca first team, that he would win every trophy possible, that he would become European champion and world champion. That he would play alongside the best players in history, that he would make friends for life.

"It's been 25 years since I joined Barca. I left, and I came back. Football has given me everything, Barca has given me everything. You, Culers, have given me everything.

"I want to tell you that I've decided that now is the time to bring this journey to its end. I've always said that there would not be any other team after Barca, and that's how it will be. This Saturday's game will be my last at Camp Nou.

"I will become a regular fan, I will support the team.

"I will pass my love for Barca to my children, like my family did with me. And you know me, sooner or later, I'll be back. I'll see you at Camp Nou. Long live Barca, always."

Pique recently split from his wife, Colombian pop star Shakira. He has a host of off-field interests through the investment group he founded, Kosmos Holding.

Gerard Pique has announced that he will retire at the age of 35 and Barcelona's match against Almeria on Saturday will be his last at Camp Nou.

The defender established himself as a Barca and Spain legend after returning to his homeland from Manchester United in 2008.

Pique has fallen out of favour under Xavi this season and the centre-back on Thursday revealed that he has decided to call time on his illustrious career.

Barcelona have confirmed Jules Kounde and Eric Garcia suffered respective thigh and hip issues in the Blaugrana's win over Valencia.

Robert Lewandowski scored a last-gasp winner at Mestalla on Saturday, as Barca claimed a LaLiga victory in response to their Champions League exit in midweek.

However, both starting centre-backs failed to make it through the game, with Garcia taken off in the 42nd minute and Kounde making way in the 74th.

Kounde, a big-money signing from Sevilla, has had a stuttering start to his Barca career, having only returned from a hamstring problem, which he sustained while on international duty with France in September, on October 16.

Barca announced in a medical update on Sunday that Kounde has a left thigh strain, while Spain defender Garcia – who like his team-mate will be hoping to return to fitness ahead of the World Cup – has sustained what the club described as a muscle strain in his left hip.

No timeline was given for the duo's return, though the club did clarify that both issues were "low", suggesting they are minor injuries. Neither player will feature against Viktoria Plzen in Barca's final Champions League match on Tuesday.

Jose Gaya sees himself as a one-club man after signing a new deal with Valencia, as he outlined his hope to represent the club at the World Cup.

Gaya has been a regular in the first team since graduating from Valencia's academy in 2012 and has gone on to make 239 LaLiga appearances.

Named captain in 2020 following Dani Parejo's transfer to Villarreal, Gaya signed a new deal on Wednesday to keep him at the club until the end of June 2027.

The 27-year-old made his international debut in 2018 and hopes to be a part of Luis Enrique's squad for Qatar, though he has the likes of Marcos Alonso and Jordi Alba to contend with.

"Whenever I go away with the national team I try to represent Spain and I think it's the best a player can aspire to do," Gaya told Valencia's official website.

"The squad list hasn't come out yet, but I'm going to give it my all at Valencia to be able to be there."

When asked about any potential further renewals in the future, he added: "I would be excited to play 1,000 more games, but my mind is not thinking at that moment. I also have to earn that renewal and I will do my best for that."

Having been a part of Valencia's Copa del Rey success in 2019, Gaya hopes that in the years to come he can play a role in taking the club back to the top. 

He said: "In recent years I have been able to play in two finals and my ambition is to be able to continue at Valencia and work to be able to take us back to the top positions."

Brahim Diaz has no idea if he will return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as he tries to force his way into Spain's World Cup squad by starring for Milan.

Diaz is in his third season on loan at San Siro and scored his second goal of the campaign in a 2-0 win over Juventus on Saturday.

The Serie A champions would reportedly have to pay €22million to sign the midfielder on a permanent basis.

Diaz is unsure where he will be playing beyond this season and the 23-year-old is not thinking about his future as he strives to win more trophies for the Rossoneri. 

He said: "Now I am focused on Milan. What happens later, that has to happen. The future will be seen, we don't know what can happen tomorrow, I'm at Milan and I want to perform and give 100 per cent.

"The fans love me a lot. I'm at a great club and I'm focused on the next game and focused on Milan."

Diaz scored in his only senior appearance for his country in a 4-0 thrashing of Lithuania last year and has not given up hope of playing in the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.

He added: "I have no plans in November. I am very much looking forward to it.

"Going with the national team is a pride and it is one of the objectives. It would be amazing to go to Qatar.”

Carles Puyol has apologised for making a "clumsy joke" in response to a tweet from Iker Casillas' account on Sunday, after it appeared the former goalkeeper had come out as gay.

A post attributed to Real Madrid and Spain great Casillas read: "I hope you respect me: I'm gay."

Although the message was widely shared on social media, suspicions over its validity or seriousness emerged when Puyol replied to say it was time for the duo to "tell our story", followed by kissing and love-heart emojis.

Spanish media reports subsequently suggested Casillas' original message was an ironic response to rumours concerning a potential relationship with actress Alejandra Onieva.

Casillas has since claimed his account was hacked and apologised for offence caused, and former Barcelona captain Puyol has acknowledged his response was misguided.

"I have made a mistake. Sorry for a clumsy joke with no bad intentions and [which was] totally out of place," Puyol wrote on Twitter.

"I understand that it may have hurt sensitivities. All my respect and support for the LGTBIQA+ community."

Both players have been heavily criticised for what many believe to be an ill-judged joke, with Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo – who is regarded as the first openly gay professional male footballer – accusing the duo of being "disrespectful" with their messages.

Former Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas claims he was hacked after a tweet from his Twitter account said he had come out as gay.

A post attributed to the 41-year-old on Sunday said: "I hope you respect me: I'm gay."

The tweet had a seismic impact on social media but suspicions over the validity of the message quickly emerged when an account in the name of his former Spain team-mate Carles Puyol replied 10 minutes later saying it was time for them "to tell our story", followed by kissing and love-heart emojis.

Both tweets rapidly went viral, before Spanish publication Diario AS claimed it was a response to show how Casillas was "fed up with the rumours" about a potential relationship with actress Alejandra Onieva.

Each message was eventually deleted, with Casillas then posting another tweet absolving himself of responsibility almost three hours after the initial message was sent.

"Hacked account. Luckily everything in order," wrote Casillas, who in 2020 ran for the presidency of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

"Apologies to all my followers. And of course, more apologies to the LGBT community."

By that point, both players had already been widely criticised for what many felt to be an ill-judged joke.

That was certainly the perception of Josh Cavallo, the Adelaide United player generally regarded to be the first openly gay professional male footballer, who suggested the former Clasico stars had been disrespectful about a serious topic prior to Casillas' brief explanation.

"Joking and making fun out of coming out in football is disappointing," he wrote.

"It's a difficult journey that any LGBTQ+ people have to go through. To see my role models and legends of the game make fun out of coming out and my community is beyond disrespectful."

Casillas' apology was not immediately followed by a similar message from Puyol.

England have the opportunity to gain a measure of revenge on Italy for their Euro 2020 final defeat after the two nations were drawn together in Euro 2024 qualifying.

Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at Wembley in London on July 11, 2021 to win their first European Championship title since 1968.

Gareth Southgate's Three Lions had opened the scoring through Luke Shaw, but the Azzurri levelled via Leonardo Bonucci.

And spot-kick misses by Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka proved costly for England, who had hoped to win a first major title in 55 years.

The two will tussle again – twice – on the road to Germany 2024 after being drawn together in qualifying Group C in Sunday's ceremony, which was held in Frankfurt.

Nevertheless, both teams will still expect to reach the finals given the top two in each group progress to the tournament - joining them will be Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta.

It was North Macedonia who knocked Italy out of the World Cup qualifying play-offs earlier this year.

Group B is another standout after the Netherlands were drawn alongside reigning world champions France in a pool that also contains Republic of Ireland, Greece and Gibraltar.

Spain will be confident of plotting a way through Group A, which also contains Scotland, Norway, Georgia and Cyprus, though Belgium may face a slightly sterner examination after being grouped with Austria, Sweden, Azerbaijan and Estonia.

Qualifying is set to begin in March 2023 and conclude eight months later, with the winners and runners-up of each group going straight through to the tournament.

The remaining three teams will be decided in March 2024 via a play-off section, which will be made up of 12 group winners from the 2022-23 Nations League.

If a Nations League section winner has already qualified for Euro 2024, their play-off place will pass to the next best-ranked country from the same league.


Draw in full:

Group A: Spain, Scotland, Norway, Georgia, Cyprus
Group B: Netherlands, France, Republic of Ireland, Greece, Gibraltar
Group C: Italy, England, Ukraine, North Macedonia, Malta
Group D: Croatia, Wales, Armenia, Turkey, Latvia
Group E: Poland, Czech Republic, Albania, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group F: Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Estonia
Group G: Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group H: Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland, San Marino
Group I: Switzerland, Israel, Romania, Kosovo, Belarus, Andorra
Group J: Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Liechtenstein

Ukraine have joined Spain and Portugal in a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup, it was announced on Wednesday.

Spain and Portugal had already joined forces with an "Iberian bid" to host but Ukraine have joined as a third host, with the bid now being referred to as a "European bid".

Reports on Tuesday revealed Ukraine's involvement, and it was confirmed on Wednesday by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) at UEFA's Swiss headquarters, with Europe's governing body backing the bid.

According to reports, the plan is for Ukraine to play host to one group in the 48-team tournament – which will be the second with expanded teams after the 2026 World Cup in North America; hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Ukraine previously hosted the 2012 European Championship alongside Poland, while Portugal hosted the same tournament in 2004. Neither has hosted the World Cup previously but Spain hosted it in 1982.

The European bid will compete with others for the rights to host the 2030 tournament, with a final decision to be made in 2024.

Currently, a South American proposal from Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile has been made, while it is reported a joint bid from Greece, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is also in the works.

Another inter-federation bid may involve Israel, partnering with the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, while Morocco could launch a joint bid with other northern African nations having failed with previous bids for the tournaments in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010.

Australia could also be an option, with reports previously indicating a joint proposal could be made alongside either New Zealand or Indonesia.

A plethora of joint bids appear to suggest that this year's World Cup in Qatar could be the final tournament to be hosted by a single nation, with the appeal of hosting the tournament in numerous countries increasing – particularly to involve those who would not be able to host a tournament individually.

The increase to a 48-team World Cup would also put further strain on individual nations to host an entire tournament, with a total of 80 matches to be played – an increase on the 64 that will be played in Qatar.

Fernando Santos had no concerns around his future as Portugal coach after his team lost 1-0 to Spain and missed out on a place at the Nations League Finals.

Spain's dramatic victory came courtesy of Alvaro Morata's goal in the 88th minute, sending La Roja to next year's tournament instead of Portugal.

Having only needed a draw to advance, the late winner was of great frustration to Santos, but he would not entertain talk around his status as coach.

Informed of criticism and asked whether poor results would affect his position, Santos shot back: "Well, that's fine. But what should I answer? It doesn't pinch [impact] me at all.

"Do you want to be more direct or is that your question?

"My contract goes until 2024. I can't be more direct than that."

On the match, Santos added: "We cannot concede a goal in the last minutes. If we have to defend, we should give everything for it.

"Anyway, the players worked hard, and we still had a good opportunity, but we didn't make the most of it." 

Spain had five shots on target to Portugal's four, but all of those came after the 71st minute, with Santos' side paying for their earlier profligacy.

"If I would like to simplify, I would say that we had several opportunities and Spain only had a few," the coach said. "So it would be a matter of efficiency: we didn't score.

"We must look at the whole game. We are all very sad. We were convinced that we would reach the Nations League Finals. We are not there, so we are obviously sad.

"We must move on and identify what needs to be improved. We must address it in order to be on top form at the World Cup."

Portugal were not helped by Cristiano Ronaldo's failure to contribute in attack.

He has now not scored in his past three appearances for Portugal, and there are questions around his ability to carry the national team without consistent game time at Manchester United.

"I am only interested in the team's performance," Santos said. "Ronaldo had three or four chances, two of them very good.

"He normally scores [in these situations], but he didn't. It's football. We normally expect him to score, but he didn't."

Head coach Luis Enrique "had the feeling that the goal was going to come" for Spain as a late Alvaro Morata strike earned victory over Portugal to reach next year's Nations League Finals.

Spain needed to win in Braga if they were to top Group A2 above Portugal, but the hosts had the better of the first-half opportunities.

However, substitutions from Luis Enrique turned the game in Spain's favour, before they found a dramatic 88th-minute winner when Morata smashed in from Nico Williams' downwards header.

Luis Enrique claims he knew his team were going to score, telling reporters: "It is a wonderful sport in which victory is the best antidote for any depression or state of sadness.

"Portugal are a top team. In the first half, I insisted a lot, perhaps too much, on having the ball, and we did. It is clear that we prefer to make the passes in the opposing half.

"The first half is necessary to show that the ball is ours; in the second half, I had the feeling that the goal was going to come.

"We repeat reaching the final four, and it is a great joy."

The important victory will no doubt stir hopes of Spain repeating their 2010 heroics, when Vicente del Bosque led the nation to their first and only World Cup crown.

The 2022 tournament in Qatar is fast approaching, and Luis Enrique faces tough decisions in picking his final squad.

"It is wonderful to train these players," he told reporters. 

"The list is not 26; there are 40 who can come to the World Cup. It is a pleasure to train players of such quality.

"The pity is that players are going to stay out [of the final squad]. It changes continuously. It will be difficult for me."

Alvaro Morata's late goal gave Spain a 1-0 victory over Portugal and snatched a place at the Nations League Finals from their hosts in Braga.

Spain needed to win to leapfrog Fernando Santos' side atop Group A2 but had looked set to be frustrated, with Portugal enjoying the better of the first-half opportunities.

However, substitutions from Luis Enrique after the break changed the game, and Nico Williams' header across goal was smashed in by Morata to steal a precious victory.

The dramatic win means Spain will join Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands at next year's tournament, with Portugal left to rue missed chances and sloppy defending in the closing stages.

 

Luis Enrique says Spain will be treating Tuesday's Nations League group decider against Portugal as if it is a World Cup quarter-final.

La Roja lock horns with the Euro 2016 champions in the Group A2 finale in Braga, with the visitors needing to win to secure their place in next year's finals.

Spain's chances of finishing at the group summit were dented following a 2-1 defeat against Switzerland on Saturday, while Portugal leapfrogged them after running out 4-0 winners against the Czech Republic.

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique remains optimistic about his nation's scenario, which he likened to preparing for a World Cup knockout tie.

"It's a final and we're thinking about it that way. It's positive to have reached matchday six with the possibility of being champions," he said at Monday's pre-match press conference.

"We put it as if it were the quarter-finals of Qatar. It's 90 minutes and it's only worth winning – not even a draw is useful.

"We have always defined [Portugal] as very talented and with an outstanding physical presence. They have already conquered very important things, and the evolution of the teams is usually measured by what they win."

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