This is the Sunday FC Barcelona fans had been waiting for all summer, the day their beloved team – minus recently-departed Neymar – opens the 2017-18 season against Real Betis.
But instead of a celebration, the mood will be somber for the sellout crowd of 99,354 at Camp Nou, as Spain observes a third day of national mourning following Thursday’s terror attack that left 14 dead and more than 100 injured.
The game, being shown at 2:15 p.m. on BeINSports, will begin with a minute of silence. The starting players will have the city’s name “Barcelona” in place of their names on the backs of the jerseys, and the front of the shirts will be embroidered with #TotsSomBarcelona (We are all Barcelona). All players will wear a black armband. All 72 teams in the English soccer leagues are also wearing black armbands this weekend in solidarity.
The front-page headlines of the sports papers in Spain on Friday reflected the feelings of fans there, and elsewhere around the world.
Madrid-based Marca wrote: “Today, we cannot speak about sport”
Barcelona-based Sport's headline went with a take on FC Barcelona’s team motto: “Tots units fem força” (together we are stronger).
Mundo Deportivo splashed just one word on its cover: “Horror”.
On Friday morning, before FC Barcelona’s practice, the players and coaches stood in a semicircle and held a moment of silence.
Barca’s archrival Real Madrid tweeted a photo of their team holding a moment of silence at their training camp Friday, as did Spanish clubs Espanyol (which is based in Barcelona), Levante, Granada, Real Mallorca, and Girona.
FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu and directors Pau Vilanova and Maria Teixidor were among the thousands of people who attended a memorial tribute Friday morning at Placa Catalunya, a plaza close to the scene of Thursday’s attack. The attack took place along Las Ramblas, a popular tourist-filled promenade with many shops and kiosks that sell FC Barcelona jerseys and merchandise.
Lionel Messi, the team’s highest-profile player, was among the world’s soccer stars who reacted to the tragedy on social media. He posted a black and white picture on Instagram showing the city's skyline - including the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral - with a black ribbon and this message:
“I want to send my condolences and all my support to the families and friends of the victim of this terrible attack in our beloved Barcelona, as well as totally rejecting any act of violence. We’re not going to give up, there are more of us who want to live in a world of peace, without hate and where respect and tolerance form the basis of our coexistence.”
The mood at Camp Nou Sunday will be far different than it was three weeks ago at Hard Rock Stadium, where 66,000 fans cheered and sang during “El Clasico Miami,” a summer exhibition game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona won the Miami game, 3-2.
At the time, Barca’s biggest concern was whether Brazilian star Neymar would stay with their team or leave for Paris Saint-Germain. As it happened, that would be the last time Neymar would play in a Barcelona jersey. PSG signed a world-record transfer fee of $250 million to get Neymar, and he played his first game with them last weekend (scoring a pretty goal).
On Thursday, Neymar wrote on Twitter: "God will comfort the families. #PrayForBarcelona."
Barca’s offense seemed to miss Neymar during last week’s 5-1 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the Super Cup. Although just a preseason tournament, some of Barca’s weaknesses were exposed, and Neymar’s absence was noticeable. To make matters worse, Luis Suarez is out for a month with a knee injury.
But none of that seems to matter this weekend. There are much bigger issues on the minds of Barcelonistas. It will take a while for the games to matter as much as they did before.
Sunday: Huddlesfield Town vs. Newcastle (8:30 a.m., NBCSN), Tottenham vs. Chelsea (11:30 a.m., NBCSN), Toluca vs. Necaxa (1 p.m., Univision), FC Barcelona vs. Real Betis (2:15 p.m., BeINSports), Deportiva La Coruna vs. Real Madrid (4:15 p.m., BeINSports), Seattle vs. Minnesota (9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)