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Enrique backs players over awards no-show

Press Association logoPress Association 10/01/2017

Barcelona soccer boss Luis Enrique says he is fully behind his players' decision not to attend the inaugural Best FIFA Football Awards in Zurich in order to focus on Wednesday's (Thursday AEDT) Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Several members of the Barca squad were expected to be at the FIFA ceremony in Switzerland on Monday night, including Lionel Messi who was in the three-man shortlist for the top men's award.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo claimed that accolade ahead of Messi and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann.

However, Barca had issued a statement on Monday morning saying the players nominated would be instead focusing on preparations for the cup last-16 second leg against Athletic at the Nou Camp - where Barca will try to overturn a 2-1 deficit - with the Spanish giants represented by officials led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu in Zurich.

Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez were all named in the FIFPro World XI along with Messi.

Manager Enrique, however, offered his full support to his players, telling a media conference: "In principle, the idea to go or not is individual. As their coach, I can only back their decision. There is a sporting situation that is more important.

"There are certain commitments the players must take into account. I back their decision 100 per cent."

Enrique expects an improved performance at the Nou Camp, when his side will be out to secure a first win in three matches.

"We have to be very effective, very precise, and improve our percentage of getting out with the ball and beating their pressure," he said.

"The scoreline from the first leg makes for a very attractive game.

"We are going into the game a goal down, but the fact that we scored in the first leg has given us the confidence we need to get through the tie.

"If we score a goal, we will be ahead on aggregate and Athletic will have to take risks.

"It will be difficult because of the way Athletic play and what this match means to them."

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