Spain centre-back Gerard Pique confirmed that not even the appointment of ex-Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique has caused him to change his mind about retiring from Spain duty.
Pique, 31, was a key player when La Roja won World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012. The last of 102 international run-outs came in disappointing fashion when hosts Russia knocked them out on penalties during World Cup 2018’s round of 16.
Former Barca supremo took over in the aftermath, ending a turbulent spell in which Fernando Hierro took temporary charge on the eve of the tournament after Julen Lopetegui was sacked for arranging a switch to Real Madrid.
“I talked to him (Enrique) a week or two ago. I told him that the decision was already made,” Pique said ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup against Sevilla.
Pique’s former Barca team-mate Andres Iniesta also stepped aside after Spain’s poor run at the World Cup.
“It was a great stage at the Euros and World Cup,” added Pique.
“I’m very happy to have participated in all these successes, but now I want to focus on Barca. I have three years left and the more the better.”
Barcelona will look to add yet another domestic trophy to their collection when they take on Sevilla in the Spanish Supercopa on Sunday.
In a break with tradition, the clash will be a one-off match played at the Stade Ibn Batoutain in Tangier, Morocco.
Sevilla must hope a change of country can help them upset the odds after a chastening 5-0 defeat by Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey in April. With Barca having won both the league and the cup, Sevilla provide the opposition once again.
It is a familiar scenario given the only major Spanish honour Barca have not won in the last four seasons was the league title in 2017, where they lost out to Real Madrid.
They have been less dominant in the Supercopa, beating Sevilla in 2016 but losing to Athletic Bilbao in 2015 and Madrid 12 months ago.
The added complication for Sevilla is their involvement in Europa League qualifying, with Sunday’s match coming in the middle of their two legs against Lithuanian side Zalgiris.
New boss Pablo Machin, who left Girona to take over at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, said on sevillafc.es: “On Sunday we’ll play a final we’ve won the right to be at and we have to give it the importance it has.
“We will not reach 100 per cent. Being a team with a different way of playing we need some time, but the team is assimilating well and they are good and intelligent footballers.”
Lionel Messi is set to play his first match for Barca since being named Andres Iniesta’s successor as club captain and Ernesto Valverde must decide how many of his World Cup stars he throws into the mix.
Teenagers Riqui Puig and Juan Miranda have impressed in pre-season and could be involved, but Carles Alena and Denis Suarez are recovering from injury.
There was good news for Barca on the eve of the match, with Philippe Coutinho now classed as a European player thanks to his Portuguese wife, meaning Valverde could potentially give debuts to all of his new trio – Arthur Melo, Malcom and Arturo Vidal.
Malcom’s transfer from Bordeaux was controversial after the Catalan side nabbed him from under the noses of Roma and now the Brazilian cannot wait to get started.
He said on fcbarcelona.com: “Barca for me is more than a club. I feel privileged to be here. I want to win titles and be an idol like the great Brazilians who have been here.
“All players dream of playing with Barca. I didn’t imagine it would be so soon, but I knew I could fulfil my dream of playing here.”
The new Spanish season gets under way on Sunday with a game taking place on foreign shores, as the Super Cup is contested in Morocco between Sevilla and reigning league and cup champions Barcelona.
There is a new look to both teams, with Barca boss Ernesto Valverde able to give debuts to summer signings Clement Lenglet, Arthur, Malcom and Arturo Vidal, while new Sevilla coach Pablo Machin can also call upon the services of several new signings.
Most of Barca’s stars, such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, have not featured at all in the pre-season preparations after making a late return to training following their World Cup exertions, so Valverde may keep some of his biggest names on the bench.
Here are three of the big talking points ahead of the contest.
ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR MESSI?
The game gives Lionel Messi an opportunity to start the season by notching up yet another milestone: the most honours won by any Barcelona player.
Messi is currently tied with Andres Iniesta after claiming 32 titles during his time with the club, but the midfielder’s departure to Japan means that Messi can now move clear into first place outright.
Messi has already won the Spanish Super Cup on seven occasions and is the competition’s all-time leading scorer with 13 goals in his previous 17 appearances, and kicking off the new campaign by racking up trophy number 33 would be exactly the tonic he needs after the deep frustrations he endured during the World Cup.
He has not been in action since hapless Argentina’s exit against eventual winners France six weeks ago, and the newly-appointed Barca skipper will be relieved to return to comfortable surroundings after the chaos of his national team’s set-up this summer.
ELECTRIC ATMOSPHERE FAVOURING BARCA?
🏟ℹ️ | The Super Cup between FC Barcelona and Sevilla sunday will be played in Tangier. Some details:— Culé Source (@CuleSource) August 10, 2018
Name: Stade Ibn Batouta
Location: Tangier, Morocco
Inaugurated: april 2011
Home Team: IR Tanger pic.twitter.com/vXtesxAuWh
This edition of the Spanish Super Cup is like no other, with the game in Tangier marking the first time the trophy has been held overseas and played as a one-off fixture.
The title is normally decided over two legs, home and away, having been staged in that manner on every previous occasion since it was first permanently introduced to the annual calendar in 1982.
However, this time around Barca’s pre-season tour to the United States and Sevilla’s involvement in the Europa League qualifying rounds meant it was impossible to find two available dates, so the Spanish Football Federation eventually decided to take the game to a neutral venue as a one-off.
Although Sevilla is much closer geographically to Morocco, Barca are expected to enjoy the vast majority of support from the locals, who will be thrilled by the rare opportunity to watch Messi and co in action.
The exotic location of the 45,000 capacity Stade Ibn Batouta is likely to be matched by an electric atmosphere, and the noise and colour of the Moroccan fans could create an occasion to remember.
SEVILLA LAUNCHING INTO BRIGHT NEW ERA?
New Sevilla boss Pablo Machin, who previously enjoyed great success with Barca’s Catalan neighbours Girona, is looking to launch a new era for the Andalusian club following last season’s frustrating seventh-place finish.
A key new player for Sevilla is Czech international goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, who has been recruited from Basel to replace Fulham-bound Sergio Rico. Defender Joris Gnagnon has been snapped up for €15m from Rennes, with midfielder Ibrahim Amadou arriving for a similar sum from Lille.
Winger Aleix Vidal will be hoping to face his former club after being signed from Barcelona during the summer, and Sunday’s game provides an early opportunity to see how Machin plans to reshape his new team.