'I've been playing well for years' - Pique dismisses Spain critics

Gerard Pique has dismissed critics of his international form, insisting he has been "playing very well for a number of years".

The Barcelona centre-back has won the World Cup and European Championship during a seven-year career with the senior Spain side, for whom he has played in 83 matches.

Pique has often been at the centre of controversies on the international stage, however, with a number of fans unhappy with his public support for Catalan independence campaigners, while conflict between Barca and Real Madrid players has often led to concerns over harmony within the camp.

But the 29-year-old does not believe his form has suffered as a result of scrutiny from outside observers, telling a news conference: "It seems like when I don't talk so much people praise my performances more.

"I've been playing very well for a number of years. I'm happy about that."

Spain face Italy in World Cup qualifying on Thursday, just a little over three months on from their encounter in the second round of Euro 2016, which Italy won 2-0.

Pique is prepared for a difficult test in Turin, but is taking confidence from 2-0 and 8-0 wins over Belgium and Liechtenstein respectively in Julen Lopetegui's first two matches in charge.

"We try to study our rivals so we know where to improve. It's not just tactics that have an influence; the set-up isn't so important in this type of game," Pique said.

"I don't compare Julen to Vicente [del Bosque]. Vicente's time in charge can't ever be repeated, and now we're starting a new spell with a lot of hope and excitement. And we've started well, we beat Belgium away and got a good result against Liechtenstein.

"The history of Italy is incredible and it carries great weight. They get called defensive, but they're playing better football all the time. They're scoring freely right now."

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