x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pepe will want to put club troubles behind him

With the Real Madrid defender sitting out a 10-match ban following an amazing outburst against Getage in April, his immediate priorities are on the international stage.

"I feel terrible; never in my career had this happened to me. I can only ask for the fans' forgiveness because my actions weren't good," he said. Pepe, Real Madrid's Brazil-born defender, had slept on his thoughts. "Many people know I'm not like this, but I was very tense. I ask all the players, their families, referees and all football fans to forgive me," he added. The defender, 26, was right to be horrified by his actions. The previous night, in front of a packed Bernabéu during a league game against Getafe this April, Pepe chased the visiting midfielder Casquero down in the Real box with six minutes to play.

At 1-1, the game was finely poised. Having won 16 and drawn one of their previous 17 league game, Juande Ramos's side had implausibly managed to keep in touch with Barcelona at the top of the Primera Liga. A light push from Pepe saw Casquero fall to the ground and win a penalty, which Daniel Albin scored. Pepe reacted with an extraordinary outburst at the referee and rival players, in which he kicked, poked, pushed and punched those around him. Efforts to reason with him failed, even from his own teammates, before goalkeeper Iker Casillas finally - forcefully - pushed him towards the tunnel.

When play eventually continued, Real mustered a Herculean effort which saw Guti and Gonzalo Higuain net in the 85th and 93rd minutes to give them all three points. It was not the dramatic finish which made the headlines the following morning, however, but Pepe's outburst. The Spanish Football Federation banned Pepe for 10 league games and he has not been allowed to wear the Madrid shirt since in a league game.

Pepe has played for Madrid in friendlies and insiders say he had a bright future at the club, but his immediate priorities are on the international stage with his adopted Portugal. Born in northern Brazil, Pepe left his homeland at 18 and has played all his professional football in Europe. He starred in Portugal's Euro 2008 games, where his authoritative performances and fleet-heeled pace won him a place in Uefa's team of the tournament.

Alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Nani, Simao, Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho, much was expected of Portugal under their coach Carlos Quieroz, but their 2010 World Cup campaign has been a disaster so far. Semi finalists in 2006, Portugal are third in Group One on nine points, trailing leaders Denmark by seven points and Hungary by four with four games left. Tonight Quieroz takes his team to Copenhagen to tackle the Danes and then to Budapest on Wednesday. Only Europe's nine group winners are assured of places in the finals: the eight best runners-up have to play-off.

After winning trophies in each of the previous three seasons, this year has not been kind to Pepe so far. He has only himself to blame for that. and he knows it. amitten@thenational.ae Al Jazeera +6, 10pm