March 23, 2017

MADRID (AP) Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are calling a truce.

The veteran defenders from Real Madrid and Barcelona, who have exchanged blows through social media and television interviews recently because of their club rivalry, have declared peace while with Spain's national team.

''I not going to deny we are used to throwing small stones at each other, but it's never done with any kind of malice. It's all in the spirit of sport. It's all done in good health,'' Ramos said as he arrived at Spain's training camp this week ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier against Israel in Gijon.

''It's all part of the rivalry that exists between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and that's not going to change,'' Ramos added. ''But it doesn't mean I won't go give him a hug when I see him here.''

The 30-year-old central defenders have not shown any signs of animosity despite the recent quarrels off the field. They have been constantly chatting during the team's practice sessions this week, even joking with each other at times.

''It's like the things that happen on the field. When the game is over, you go and shake hands with your opponent,'' Ramos said. ''The key for the success of the team is unity. I think that we have a wonderful group and we have to maintain that.''

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said the rivalry between the defenders' does not worry him.

''We joke about it,'' Lopetegui told Movistar TV. ''We tell them that now they can start tweeting wearing the same jersey. They are fierce defenders of their clubs, but when they get here they are 100 percent part of the same team. They are part of a united group.''

The most recent squabble between them began when the outspoken Pique hinted on social media that Madrid was being benefited by referees in the Spanish league. He posted stories mentioning mistakes that went against Barcelona and some that favored Madrid, including a goal by Ramos that was not annulled even though he was offside.

Ramos said such accusations were expected from someone like Pique, and that the Barcelona player should mind his own business.

The Madrid defender then took aim at Pique's Barcelona by hinting that the Catalan club was helped by the officiating crew in the 6-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. Ramos said the victory was historic ''in all aspects.''

''Sometimes you cross the line of respect because it was something achieved by your eternal rival,'' said Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets, Pique's teammate at Barcelona. ''But they can say whatever they want, I'm not going to get into this war. I've been with Ramos and Pique for several years in the national team and it's always been a great atmosphere.''

Busquets said that Ramos is higher in the hierarchy in the national team because he is the current captain, while Pique has a bigger leading role at Barcelona.

Ramos and Pique have been playing together for Spain since 2009, when the Barcelona player made his national team debut. Together they won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship. Ramos also played in the 2006 World Cup and at Euro 2008.

The 2018 World Cup will likely be the last competition they play together because Pique has said he will retire from the national team after the tournament in Russia.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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