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By ESPN Staff

Barcelona players defend 'fat' Ronaldinho

MADRID, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Barcelona players have defended team mate Ronaldinho over accusations that the Brazilian forward is overweight and out of shape.

Photos of the 26-year-old after he had taken off his shirt at the end of Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to Liverpool which showed a roll of fat around his waistband have sparked debate about the Brazilian's weight.

Newspapers in both Madrid and Barcelona made odious comparisons about Ronaldinho's apparent loss of fitness by publishing photos of the forward taken in 2003 and 2004 in which he appears to be leaner and more muscular.

'As long as he plays well I don't think there is a problem with his weight,' team mate Javier Saviola replied when asked about the issue in a news conference on Friday.

'You will have to ask the medical staff about it as I'm only his team mate and I am not with him when he is eating his meals.

'If they think he is not right, then they will make him train more.'

Fellow Argentine Lionel Messi also came to the Brazilian's defence. 'When something goes wrong with the team, they always blame Ronaldinho and when he scores a couple of goals he is the best in the world,' said the 19-year-old.

'He has scored 16 goals in the league this season so there is no reason to complain about his level of performance.'

Ronaldinho's Brazil international colleague Ronaldo had consistent problems with his weight while at Real Madrid, leading to criticism from the media and coach Fabio Capello.

Ronaldinho did not train with the rest of his team mates on Friday. Local media reporting that he had been in the gym.