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Feb 15, 2013

Xavi defends Messi from Real attack

Xavi Hernandez says the criticism by some in Madrid of the behaviour of Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi after the recent Copa Clasico was just a nonsensical attempt to cast the Argentina international as a "bad guy".

• Bojan relishing Barca clash
• Blog: Goalkeepers, central defenders and Neymar

Last month's Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu finished 1-1, leaving the tie nicely balanced ahead of the return game at Barca's Camp Nou on February 26.

Blancos winger Jose Callejon told reporters the day after the first leg that Messi had accused Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka of being a "puppet" of Jose Mourinho's, and also of confronting Alvaro Arbeloa in the Bernabeu car park an hour after the game.

Xavi told Catalan paper Sport on Thursday that certain things can be said in the heat of the moment after a match, but the whole episode was just a senseless attempt from Madrid to depict Messi as a villain.

"This is just nonsense," Xavi said. "Why do we not talk about football? Let's talk about football. How did Barca play? What did Real Madrid do on the pitch? What does it matter if someone says 'A' and someone else 'B'?

"This has happened for 100 years, throughout football's history, and will continue to happen. Whoever loses leaves angry. I do not know if it happened or not. I did not see anything. But it does not interest me, I have not even asked Leo.

"They want to sell the idea that Messi is a bad person, that he is the bad guy in the film? No. He is competitive, he wants to win. He will stay that way. What do they want with all this?"

The Catalan playmaker, currently sidelined with a hamstring injury but expected to return in time for the second leg in a fortnight's time, said his side should have been able to kill off the tie at the Bernabeu but is confident they would not make the same mistakes at home.

"There are 90 minutes left," he said. "In the first leg we should have scored one or two more goals. We left feeling we had left the tie too open, with the chances we had. Against Real Madrid, if you do not kill off the game, they end up coming back. We have got 90 minutes at home and we hope to make good on the 1-1 here."

Before that game, Barca travel to AC Milan for Wednesday's Champions League last 16 first leg at the San Siro. Xavi said his side's current tag as favourites was not a burden, but Milan would prove a stiff test.

"We know we are favourites," he said. "We accept the role of big favourites for the competition, and we like that situation. We feel the pressure but also see it as a challenge.

"I remember other years when we arrived at the last 16 or quarter-finals of the Champions League and nobody would have bet a cent on us. In that context you come into the games a little down. Now it is just the opposite. We are favourites and we accept that, but before that we must compete.

"Milan are not a little team, maybe they are not at their best moment in Serie A, but they have strong defensive players, fighters, some beasts. Look, they have a lot of talent. [Stephan] El Shaarawy cannot be overlooked, nor Bojan [Krkic], nor [Kevin-Prince] Boateng. They are a great team, with seven European Cups."

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