Ajax hand Barcelona shock 2-1 defeat

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted his side may have taken their eye off the ball having already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League as they lost for the first time this season 2-1 away to Ajax on Tuesday.

Ajax hand Barcelona shock 2-1 defeat
Ajax Amsterdam's Danny Hoesen celebrates after scoring during their Champions League match against FC Barcelona in Amsterdam on Tuesday. Photo: Olaf Kraak/ANP/AFP

The Catalans were blown away by the hosts in the first-half as goals from Thulani Serero and Danny Hoessen gave them a 2-0 lead.

Barcelona were handed a lifeline at the beginning of the second period as Joel Veltman was sent-off for bringing down Neymar inside the area and Xavi halved the deficit from the resulting penalty.

However, even against 10 men, Barca failed to find an equalizer as they slipped to their first defeat in 21 games since Martino took charge in the summer.

“It is always possible to lose and we need to analyse more how the team played in the first 45 minutes than the defeat. That is when Ajax made the difference and won the game,” Martino told Canal Plus.

“We lacked intensity, it is clear that they were quicker, more precise, superior in the one against ones, they were better in all aspects.

“When a team plays well like Ajax did and you lack this intensity, the opponent is always going to win.”

Barca still top Group H and need just a point against already eliminated Celtic in the final game at the Camp Nou to ensure the finish as group winners.

But Martino was frustrated not to have secured top spot having played for over 40 minutes against a man less.

“Probably there is a situation where we thought we were qualified and subconsciously relaxed a little.

“We managed to qualify within four games and we would have liked to have secured first place today. With what I saw in the second-half I thought we were going to do it, but you can’t let 45 minutes go by as we did.”

Barcelona were without four first-team regulars, including World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, due to injury.

However, defender Gerard Pique insisted there was no excuse for their shambolic display before the break.

“It was the worst first-half that we have played. It was horrible and there is no excuse,” Barça defender Gerard Piqué told TV3.

“In the second, with a player more, we couldn’t create danger. We need to improve and reflect a lot. Barcelona cannot show this image of itself.”

And Xavi echoed his teammates sentiment that the loss of Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes cannot be used as an excuse with both set to be sidelined for the rest of the year.

“They are important players and we miss them, but that wasn’t the main reason why we lost.

“We didn’t play well enough to win. They pressed us very high and beat us to most of the contested balls. It is very difficult to win like that and even more so away from home in the Champions League.”

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‘Spain’s PM would fail high school English’

Nine out of every ten English teachers in Spain think the country's Prime Minister wouldn't pass a high-school English test, a new survey by Cambridge University Press reveals.

'Spain's PM would fail high school English'
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) and US President Barack Obama: File photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP

Three out of every four teachers surveyed also believe Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — who recently turned down free English classes — wouldn't even pass a primary school English exam.

But it wasn't just Rajoy who came out looking less than brilliant in the survey.

Some 92 percent slammed Spain's politicians in general for slacking off when it comes to studying English while 88 percent believed the country's politicians had worse English than any of their peers in the European Union.

A further 94 percent said they had felt shame when listening to Spanish politicians speak English.

These are just some of the findings of Cambrige University Press's latest Monitor on the status of the English language in Spain.

The publishing company spoke to nearly 1,000 teachers in schools, universities and private language academies across the country to get its results.

It found that 73 percent thought the level of English spoken in Spain was "low" or "very low".

In fact, around half of all teachers surveyed also said it would take 15 years for Spain to bring these levels up to those of other European countries.  

"We have a historical and cultural hang-up which is hard to shake," Cambridge University Press spokesperson Julio Redondas told Spain's Efe news agency. 

"Many things can change over a generation, but not in two days," said Redondas who said "persistence" was key to learning a language. "Either you don't speak English and you are isolated, or you speak English and you are part of the world," he said.

SEE ALSO: 'I can't speak to Obama yet': Spanish Prime Minister

But he highlighted that almost all teachers (98 percent) said Spaniards were more aware of the need to speak English than 10 years ago.

At the same time, teachers surveyed by Cambridge believed cuts to education were seriously jeopardizing progress. 

An overwhelming 96 percent said budget cuts to education had reduced the quality of education in Spain, and nearly the same number said politicians had no idea what classrooms are really like. 

While Spaniards like to criticize their political leaders' poor foreign language skills, some of Spain's leaders have been linguistic powerhouses.

Outgoing King Juan Carlos can speak French, Portuguese, Italian and English while his son Felipe — soon to be king of Spain — has near-perfect English as well as speaking Catalan, French and some Greek.

The former president of the Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre, is proficient in English and fluent in French.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos can even speak some Serbo-Croatian and Arabic. 

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