Sergio Ramos wants politics left to one side for Spain game vs. Albania
Spain captain Sergio Ramos has appealed to fans in Alicante to put politics to one side and support the national team in Friday's World Cup qualifier against Albania at the Jose Rico Perez stadium.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is at the centre of the controversy due to his comments on Sunday about the right of Catalans to vote in an independence referendum that had been declared illegal by the Spanish government, and he was again booed by fans at training in Alicante.
"We cannot ask the fans of anything because there is freedom of expression," Ramos said in a news conference. "But we have to think about the team. We ask for there to be a good atmosphere and for the fans to enjoy the game.
"Sport is not politics and we have to separate them. As captain of Spain and of Real Madrid, I have the duty to unite the group. It hasn't been an easy week for anyone. I knew it was going to be a complicated week."
Pique was first booed by fans at Monday's open training session with Spain. The Barcelona defender held a news conference two days later in a bid to defuse the controversy, saying he is fully committed to the national team despite his pro-Catalan independence vote stance.
Ramos and Pique, who play for rival clubs Madrid and Barca, have feuded in the past but are now on good terms.
"I have a very good relationship with Gerard even though we think differently," Ramos said. "We have no problem between us."
Spain are three points clear of Italy at the top of Group G with two games remaining and can qualify for the World Cup on Friday if they better the Azzurri's result against Macedonia.
"We have not lost focus," Ramos said. "We are all united on one aim, which is the game against Albania and to take another step towards the World Cup. It would be my fourth World Cup and that fills me with pride."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.