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© AP, Jan 19, 2012

Madrid's Pepe apologizes for Messi foot stomp


MADRID (AP) Real Madrid's Pepe has apologized to Lionel Messi for stepping on the Barcelona forward's hand during this week's Copa del Rey quarterfinal, saying that it wasn't intentional.

Pepe told Real Madrid's website Thursday that ''as far as the play with Leo Messi, I want to say that it was an involuntary act.''

The Portuguese defender added that ''even so, if Messi is offended I ask his forgiveness because I want to defend my team and club. ... It never passed through my head to cause harm to a fellow professional.''

Pepe received a yellow card in the 17th minute of Madrid's 2-1 loss during Wednesday's first leg when he barged into Sergio Busquets, but referee Muniz Fernandez did not penalize him for stomping on Messi's hand when the forward was on the ground in the 68th minute.

Pepe also fell to the field in the 65th minute clutching his face after coming into contact with Cesc Fabregas, but replays showed the Barcelona midfielder made contact with his arm and chest.

Pepe's actions, as well as Madrid's defensive tactics, have been widely criticized in the Spanish media, including the Madrid-friendly sports dailies.

Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said in the post-match news conference that he hadn't seen the incident, but that it would be ''punishable'' if it was done on purpose.

The 28-year-old center back has collected eight yellow cards in 11 ''clasico'' matches and a red card in last season's Champions League semifinal with Barcelona. Pepe was suspended for 10 games in April 2009 after lashing out at two Getafe players in a skirmish that included him stamping on the back of Javier Casquero after pushing the player to the ground, unprovoked.

The second leg of the total-goals quarterfinal will be played at Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium next week.

Barcelona has beaten Madrid 10 times in their last 13 meetings. This was its sixth win against Madrid since Mourinho arrived in 2010.


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