sport

Players in tribute to Vilanova

The Barcelona squad have attended a memorial space at the Nou Camp to pay their respects to former coach Tito Vilanova.

Vilanova, who stepped down as Barcelona boss last July after just one season in charge, lost his battle with throat cancer on Friday at the age of 45.

The players were accompanied by the coaching staff, led by Gerardo Martino, who succeeded Vilanova, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

After signing a condolence book, the group held a minute's silence in front of a portrait of Vilanova in a space in the main stand which has been opened for supporters to pay their respects over the next two days.

"It is a very hard moment," said Barca captain Carles Puyol.

"For two and a half years Tito was an example for us all, he fought until the last day, the last moment. He showed great strength and showed a brave face through it all.

"From here we send all our strength to his friends and family. A great person has left us, it is a very hard blow to take."

Barca will return to action on Sunday when they visit Villarreal and all games in La Liga this weekend will hold a minute's silence before the game.

Vilanova's funeral will then take place on Monday evening in Barcelona cathedral.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich team will wear black armbands during Saturday's Bundesliga match at home to Werder Bremen in memory of Vilanova.

A statement on Bayern's website from chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenige read: "The former Barcelona coach was with his team as a guest with us last season. We got to know and appreciate him as a great coach and wonderful person.

"Tito Vilanova had more than a professional bond above all with our coach Pep Guardiola and his staff.

"Bayern's grief and sympathy is today with Tito Vilanova's family and with Barcelona. Bayern Munich will remember a great man and friend with a minute's silence and black armbands during today's Bundesliga match."

The Spanish press paid tribute to Vilanova on Saturday, with his smiling face adorning the front pages of all the major sporting and general newspapers.

Pro-Real Madrid daily Marca published a 12-page supplement featuring a full-length portrait of him on its front page with the headline: "Goodbye, Tito, your struggle was a lesson to us."

They hailed Vilanova as "a symbol of valour, courage, hard work, responsibility and simplicity."

The main article from Barcelona sports daily El Mundo Deportivo led with: "Today children and grown-ups, friends and rivals, coach and players around the world, Spaniards and Catalans all cry for him."

The other major Barcelona football daily Sport lamented Vilanova's loss at such a young age.

"It is unjust that a person of just 45, a sportsman, full of life and plans, had to leave his loved ones this way," Sport said.

Several newspapers, including Spain's biggest-selling general newspaper El Pais, highlighted Barcelona's best Spanish league performance ever, came during Vilanova's only season in charge of the club.

The 2012 - 2013 Barcelona side scored 100 points, netting 115 league goals en route to the 22nd league title in the club's history.