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May 3, 2011

Guardiola hits back at criticism

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has leapt to the defence of his players ahead of the Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid, claiming they are examples of professionalism.

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Dani Alves, Pedro and Sergio Busquets were all accused of unsporting conduct by Madrid in a fiesty first leg at the Bernabeu, while the latter is reported to have racially abused Real full-back Marcelo.

However, UEFA decided against taking additional action against both clubs - deciding to stick with the original list of charges - and also threw out the extra accusations made by the Catalan club against Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

Guardiola, though, took the chance to hail his players' attributes and said: ''I know my players very well and they are an example of professionalism and honesty. They can all make mistakes during the game, but they are exemplary human beings and in any case, the actions from the past are just that - in the past.''

Barcelona midfielder Xavi also hit out at Madrid's protests to UEFA.

''The complaint from Real Madrid was a disgrace and it's logical UEFA have rejected it,'' he said. ''We have hardly talked about football at all and that makes me sad.''

Tensions have grown on and off the pitch over the last 17 days, but Tuesday's game will conclude the four-match El Clasico series, which began on April 16 with a 1-1 draw in the Primera Division. ''I'm happy it's all over,'' Guardiola added.

Back on the pitch, Barca will be big favourites to reach the final after winning the first leg 2-0, but Madrid striker Karim Benzema believes Real can produce an upset.

"We will attack to score goals," he told Madrid's official website. "I will do so too. We need goals, so we will look for them."

"I hope we win here and reach the final. Many things can happen in 90 minutes of football and I hope we win the game. Nothing is set in stone in football and we can end up winning the tie. We will have to defend well in order to score goals. It's important to keep a clean sheet."

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