Soccer  

Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski to play after ban lifted

Robert Lewandowski will be available for Barcelona’s game against Espanyol on Saturday after a temporary suspension was placed on his three-game ban.

Lewandowski, 34, was sent off in Barca’s final game before the World Cup against Osasuna after picking up two yellow cards in the 2-1 win away at El Sadar.

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He was handed a one-match ban for the red card and an additional two-game suspension for a gesture he made as he left the pitch.

The Poland international responded to being expelled by touching his nose and pointing towards the referee, Jesus Gil Manzano, which was deemed disrespectful and arrogant.

Barca have previously failed with several appeals after Lewandowski claimed the gesture was meant for his coach Xavi Hernandez following a conversation they had.

But on Friday the ban was temporarily lifted by a Madrid court, pending a final decision.

“Lewandowski can play against Espanyol on Saturday after the dispute settlement court in Madrid issued a precautionary measure against the suspension imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” Barca said in a statement on Friday.

“We found out after training this morning,” Xavi said of the development in his Friday news conference. “We had prepared for the game all week without him. It’s good news and we are happy, but it is not the best timing for us. Even [Lewandowsk] was surprised with the timing, but all that does not take away the fact that the ban is excessive and unfair.”

Xavi, who said he could understand Espanyol being annoyed by the decision, remains in the dark as to what will happen next and how long the ban will remain on standby.

“It would be good to know when we can use him and what the final ban will be,” Xavi added. “The organisation around it all has not been good considering it happened in November. We don’t know if we will have him against Atletico Madrid.”

Lewandowski, Barca’s top scorer this season with 18 goals in all competitions, was due to miss the Catalan club’s return to LaLiga action on New Year’s Eve but will now be available for the clash.

Friday’s decision could yet mean he is able to face Atletico Madrid next weekend, too. That trip to Atletico and a game against Getafe later in January were the other two fixtures the striker was set to sit out.

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Meanwhile, defender Ronald Araujo has been cleared to return to action after recovering from a thigh injury that sidelined him for three months.

Araujo underwent surgery in September which forced him to miss the World Cup, although he travelled with the Uruguay squad regardless, but returned to training with Barca this month.

Barca, therefore, have the luxury of a fully fit squad for Saturday’s game after Sergi Roberto and Franck Kessie recently returned from injuries.

Xavi also paid tribute to Brazil legend Pele, who died aged 82 on Thursday.

“I think he was exaggerating a little, no?” Xavi said with a smile, when he was reminded of some of the compliments Pele had paid him in recent years.

“My thoughts are with his family and the whole of Brazil. He was a pioneer. He marked a generation. Everyone wanted to be Pele, like Maradona, Messi… legends.

“We met at several Ballon d’Or galas and he always had nice words for me and about Barca. I had a lot of respect and affection for him. As I say, my thoughts are with his family.”