Albania head coach Christian Panucci has praised Spain centre-back Gerard Pique for having “big balls”.
The defender has been a spearhead for Catalan independence over many years and the culmination of that arrived last Sunday when a referendum on the subject was blighted by police violence.
This has not stopped the former Manchester United player speaking out in favour of the subject, making himself a target in Spain, which has strong opinions over the issue. Indeed, he was even jeered at training earlier this week by fans.
Pique threatened to quit the national team over the events of last weekend, but though he has since vowed not to retire, his strong stance has won praise from the former Italy defender, who will be in the opposing dugout on Friday when the sides meet in Alicante.
“I honestly think he’s got big balls and a lot of courage,” Panucci said. “I don’t want to get into his political affairs and other things, but I like people who are clear, with character and sincerity.
“He’s got a lot of character. He’s a player of a very high level and he knows how to handle these things well so I don’t think it’s going to affect him very much.”
Spain could potentially qualify for the World Cup on Friday, should they win and Italy fail to overcome Macedonia.