MADRID, April 26- The Barcelona squad attended a memorial space at the Camp Nou on Saturday to pay their respects to former coach Tito Vilanova, who died on Friday after a long battle with cancer aged 45.
Vilanova was first diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland over two years ago and forced him to step down as Barcelona boss last July after just one season in charge to continue receiving treatment.
“It is a very hard moment,” Barca captain Carles Puyol told Barca TV.
“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.”
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 of the Camp Nou, which has been opened for supporters to pay their respects over the next two days.
Vilanova’s funeral will then take place on Monday evening in Barcelona cathedral at 8:00pm local time (1800GMT).
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 played a key part in one of the most successful periods in Barcelona’s history as he was Pep Guardiola’s assistant as the Catalans won 14 trophies in four years under their former captain, including two Champions Leagues.
When Guardiola stepped down at the end of the 2011/12 season, Vilanova was promoted to replace him, but his only season in charge was disrupted by health problems as he had to spend two months in New York receiving chemotherapy treatment.
He returned to the sidelines in time to see Barca seal their 22nd La Liga title with a record 100 points tally.
However, he was eventually forced to step down just two weeks before the start of the current campaign due to his ongoing health problems.
“My heart is with his parents, his wife and his children. The sadness will stay with me forever,” said Guardiola, who now coaches European champions Bayern Munich.