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- Dubai 04:00 05:25 12:19 15:41 19:08 20:33
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho defended Portuguese defender Pepe on Saturday saying he believed him when he declared his stamp on Lionel Messi's hand earlier in the week was unintentional.
The 28-year-old had been forced to go public and say his stamp on the Argentinian star's hand during the Spanish Cup quarter-final first leg clash with Barcelona had not been on purpose after he attracted widespread criticism for the gesture.
Mourinho too felt compelled to spring to his defence.
"If Pepe had said publicly that it was intentional and he had told me the same thing then I would have been really mad," said Mourinho, whose Cup holders trail 2-1 going into this week's second leg.
"But he said it was not on purpose and I believe him."
While replays showed that it looked like it was on purpose and Mourinho said it was everyone's right to either believe his Portuguse compatriot or not he used an example of a previous bitter meeting between the two clubs last season where a Barca player was accused of something but his denial was accepted by all.
Sergio Busquets was accused of making racist remarks to Real defender Marcelo during the Champions League semi-final first leg match which Barca won 2-0 and went on to win the trophy.
"If some amongst you think Pepe is a liar, that is your right," said Mourinho.
"But I did not see you casting doubt last season on the player who denied making racist remarks. Quite to the contrary in fact, everyone believed him including UEFA."
However, Mourinho, whose side lead defending champions Barca by five points in the title race, didn't say whether he would start with Pepe in Sunday's match with Athletic Bilbao.
"Pepe is in the squad, but we will see at the last moment if he starts or not," said Mourinho.
Definite non-starters for Real are German midfielder Sami Khedira and Argentinian wing Angel di Maria, who are suffering from a sprained right ankle and thigh injury respectively.
Veteran Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho and Turkish midfielder Nuri Sahin have been dropped by Mourinho.
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