© AP, Jan 20, 2012

Di Stefano, Zidane back Mourinho after Madrid loss

MADRID(AP) Former Real Madrid greats Alfredo di Stefano and Zinedine Zidane came out in defense of coach Jose Mourinho on Friday following another disappointing loss to Barcelona.

Mourinho was widely criticized for his defensive tactics in Wednesday's 2-1 Copa del Rey loss, which was exacerbated by Pepe's stamp on Lionel Messi's hand.

Di Stefano said in his weekly column for Marca newspaper that placing the blame on the Portuguese coach was akin to a ''bad joke.''

''Mourinho grows in the face of great challenges, he's brave like a Real Madrid coach should be,'' Di Stefano wrote on Friday. ''The errors can be corrected.''

Zidane, who is the Madrid sporting director, backed Mourinho's decision to play Pepe in midfield in front of a physical backline that included Hamit Altintop and Ricardo Carvalho, calling much of the criticism unjust.

''Of course a club like Madrid needs to show elegance, but in this moment, against an extremely complicated rival, you have to create the conditions for victory,'' the former France midfielder told AS sports daily. ''An attack on Mourinho and the players is an attack on Madrid.''

Zidane, who travels with the team and is involved with Mourinho's technical staff, also backed Pepe, whose negative reputation for overly aggressive play was bolstered after Wednesday's match. Pepe apologized to Messi on Thursday, saying he did not intentionally step on the Barcelona player's left hand.

''He's a lovely guy, a well-educated person,'' Zidane said of the Portugal defender. ''But when he jumps onto the field he becomes obsessed with winning and that desire causes him to commit errors. Sometimes he's right on the limit.''

Madrid travels to Barcelona's Camp Nou for the return leg of the quarterfinal on Wednesday.

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