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Tuesday brings a special occasion for FC Barcelona as they are the guests at the Maradona Cup, a game being played in honour of Argentine legend Diego Maradona who died just over a year ago on 25 November 2020.
The opposition is another of the clubs that was graced by Maradona’s presence, Boca Juniors, where he enjoyed two spells, from 1981-82, the season before he came to FC Barcelona, and then again at the end of his playing career from 1995-97.
The venue for the game is the 25,000 capacity Mrsool Park in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, and kicks off at 8.00pm local time (6.00pm CET). The game can be seen live on Barça TV+ and on Barça TV.
Barça and Boca Juniors have met ten times over the years, always in friendlies, and six of those occasions were in the Joan Gamper Trophy, a record number of participations shared with PSV Eindhoven.
In 2003, shortly after Frank Rijkaard had taken over at the club and with the legendary Carlos Tévez back at Boca 15 after 15 years in Europe, the visitors took the lead but Gerard López levelled and Barça went on to win on penalties.
Five years later, Boca were back, with Pep Guardiola now in charge at the Camp Nou. Viatri opened the scoring for the guests with just a quarter of an hour to go, but goals in injury time from Carles Puyol and Samuel Eto’o swung things around in a dramatic finale.
The most recent meeting between the European and South American giants was in 2018, again for the Joan Gamper Trophy and Barça again won, this time 3-0 with goals from Malcom, Leo Messi and Rafinha.
Back in Saudi
This is the second time that Barça have appeared in Saudi Arabia, less than two years since their last visit in January 2020 for the Spanish Super Cup, where they were beaten 3-2 by Atlético Madrid in the semi-final.
And as Copa del Rey champions, Barça will be heading back to the country in a month’s time, this time to Jeddah, which is hosting the 2022 edition also featuring Real Madrid, Athletic Club and Atlético Madrid.
Xavi Hernández has taken no fewer than 28 players with him for the game.
Ez Abde is not travelling for bureaucratic reasons, while one of the most exciting attractions is the presence of Dani Alves, who can’t play in official games for Barça until January but is eligible to play in friendlies. For the first time since he returned to the club after a five-year absence, we should finally get to see the Brazilian full-back back on the pitch in the blaugrana jersey.
🚨 SQUAD LIST 🚨— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 12, 2021
🔜 Maradona Cup pic.twitter.com/1FM4SqkCSx
With 71 major titles to their name, including 34 Primera División championships and 14 domestic cups, Boca is the most successful team in Argentine football history.
They have won the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, six times, a record only topped by fellow Argentine side Independiente with seven.
The Argentine league season has just ended and Boca finished in fourth place, 13 points adrift of champions and most bitter rivals River Plate. They did, however, win the Copa Argentina final last week, beating Talleres on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
They crashed out of the Copa Libertadores in the round of 16, beaten by Atlético Mineiro of Brazil.
Xavi Hernández says
"We're very excited to be here and to represent Barça and in honour of Maradona, who made a mark and Barça and in football history."
"We need to change the dynamic whatever way we can, and get back the joy, hope and good results. It's normal that people are upset, we're unhappy too. This is not the best time in Barça history. We need to reinvent ourselves, starting tomorrow, then on Saturday and to try to end the year well."
"We have to stay positive and keep rowing in the same direction."
Dani Alves says
"I'm very excited after so long away from the club and so much time not being able to play."
"Because of the situation at the club, this is perhaps the most important challenge of my career."
"When you put on the Barça shirt you are representing a history, and it's a history that says that Barça has always been very resilient. Like tomorrow, it doesn’t matter who you are playing or what the competition is. What matters is that you are representing Barça."
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