Gerard Pique
Pique not a problem for the national team says boss Julen Lopetegui Reuters

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has defended Gerard Pique after the Barcelona centre-back was jeered by supporters during Monday's open training session with the national team because of his pro-Catalonia independence views, as had been reported earlier by ESPN.

Pique said after Sunday's 3-0 win over Las Palmas that he could quit the national team before next summer's World Cup if he were deemed to be a problem.

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And fans made their feelings clear during the training event at the team's headquarters in Las Rozas, outside Madrid.

"Pique is not a problem for the national team," Lopetegui told Cadena Ser radio, as quoted by ESPN. "He is an excellent footballer and a solution."

"Of course he will be with us," he said. "Gerard is fine, he is calm. He has always given his maximum when he is here. He is judged by political views but he is very committed, he has always pleasantly surprised us."

The 30-year-old, who announced last October that he would retire from the national team after next summer's World Cup in order to allow "future generations to take his place," was calm during training, according to Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez.

While he has not been critical of Pique, Lopetegui has told his players to focus on football and the task at hand, despite the crisis in Spain regarding Catalonia's push for independence.

"I've asked everyone to talk about football. We are playing to get to a World Cup. Football unites and no one can use a football platform for political means," Lopetegui said.

Spain, who are three points clear of Italy at the top of Group G, host Albania in Alicante on Friday before playing at Israel three days later in their final World Cup qualifier, and need four points to be mathematically certain of avoiding the playoffs.

The coach said players have the right to express their opinions privately, but have to try to avoid adding to the "unpleasant situation" generated by Catalonia's bid for independence, as reported by Sky Sports.

"Between all of us, the players, the federation, the staff, we have to try to achieve the ideal atmosphere for the game against Albania," Lopetegui said. "We cannot throw away the fantastic work we have done throughout the year just because we are monitoring other things."