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Real Madrid vs. AC Milan in Dubai

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By ESPN Staff

Barca refute crocked stars were 'sidelined'

BARCELONA, April 9 (Reuters) - Barcelona on Wednesday refuted comments from a high-ranking club official that they have used injuries to hide the fact that a number of players have been sidelined for indiscipline.

"None of our players have been sidelined from the squad," sporting director Txiki Begiristain told Canal Plus television during halftime of Barcelona's 1-0 Champions League win over Schalke 04 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

"There are medical tests and we have explained the results of those tests."

Just hours before the game, the president of Barcelona's economic commission, Xavier Sala Martin, said the club had used injuries as a way of camouflaging disciplinary action against certain players.

"Look at these gentlemen who aren't working, who aren't doing anything, who haven't played for quite a few weeks. Well, they were sidelined by the club some weeks ago," Sala Martin told Catalunya Radio.

"Although we are disguising things by saying there are injuries and all that, these gentlemen have been sidelined and they are trying to isolate them from the rest of the squad."

Sala Martin is not part of the board of directors but his position as the head of the economic commission means that he takes charge of the club during a presidential election as he did in 2006.

He refused to name any players but his comments will only fuel recent speculation surrounding the injured Ronaldinho and Deco who have been absent from the squad in recent weeks.

Ronaldinho was out of action for a month with an unspecified injury but pulled a leg muscle as he was about to return to action last week and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Deco has been out since last month with a calf injury.

Sala Martin defended the rest of the Barcelona squad, saying they should not be tarred with the same brush as any players involved in incidents of indiscipline.

"It is unfair that because of the behaviour of one, two or three who are partying all day and who only go to 22 training sessions out of 60, that all the players are being lazy," he said.

Barcelona fans voiced their discontent at the club's recent run of poor results with angry protests against club president Joan Laporta, players and coach Frank Rijkaard after their 0-0 draw at home to Getafe on Sunday.

There were no protests, however, after their 2-0 aggregate quarter-final win over Schalke that set up a semi-final against Manchester United.