YOKOHAMA • Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has refused to apologise for igniting a Twitter row with Real Madrid rivals Alvaro Arbeloa and Sergio Ramos.
No stranger to public spats with Real players, Pique incurred the wrath of his Spain team-mates by calling Arbeloa "an acquaintance", making clear reference to the term "cono" - referencing a traffic cone - an apparent dig at the full-back's mobility.
Despite flying 10,700km to contest the Club World Cup in Japan, Pique was immediately quizzed about the spat by Spanish journalists on the eve of the Catalan giants' semi-final against China's Guangzhou Evergrande.
"That's not a question about sport," the 28-year-old said with a sheepish grin. "Look, I said (Arbeloa) wasn't a friend. Make of it what you want."
A war of words erupted after he recently posted a tweet appearing to mock Real's recent expulsion from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player, prompting Arbeloa to accuse him of being obsessed with Real.
When Pique responded in kind, Ramos waded in by calling on him to show respect.
Pique's latest controversy is unlikely to endear him to Spain fans.
The centre-back was jeered by the La Roja faithful during the recent Euro 2016 qualifiers after he appeared to support Catalan independence.
Ironically, Ramos, the Spain vice-captain, called for the fans to stop booing Pique.
"We all know what Pique is like, we can't change that now and there's no point getting into whether he's always acted the right way," Ramos said.
"We're all here to represent Spain and we have to pull together. Pique gives his all on the pitch."