Gerard Pique denies 'stupid' reports that he disrespected Spain anthem

Spain centre-back Gerard Pique has labelled media reports that he made an offensive gesture during his country's anthem ahead of Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Croatia as "stupid."

Barcelona defender Pique has been regularly whistled by Spain fans through the last 12 months, due to what some see as his anti-Real Madrid and pro-Catalan independence views.

They were, however, mostly all cheering when Pique headed a late winner in Spain's Euro 2016 opening fixture against the Czech Republic, leading to what seemed to be a reconciliation.

But controversy flared up again -- mostly on social media -- during the anthems in Tuesday's game in Bordeaux, with some claiming to see Pique making a rude one-fingered gesture just as the cameras passed him.

The Barcelona-born player says the whole story has no truth in it, reiterating that he is proud of playing for Spain and has never disrespected the country or its anthem.

"It is a stupid controversy," Pique said. "If I am here, it is because I feel proud of this team and this family. In no way did I disrespect the anthem. You all know me and many times I say or do things that maybe I should not. But I have never disrespected this country, nor this national team.

"These controversies bring us nowhere. It is a country in which things around Barca and Madrid divide a lot, but we must be together and united."

Pique also tweeted after the game that: "I am cracking my knuckles during the anthem. We should not look for controversies where there are none and try to win the Euros all together."

Following their unexpected slip-up against the Croatians, Spain now face Italy in the last 16, with Germany, France and England also in a tougher half of the draw.

Ahead of the game in Paris on Monday, Pique said he and his team would have to study how to best deal with Antonio Conte's well-organised Azzurri side.

"[Italy] are playing as they know how to do," Pique said. "They are dangerous and were better than us in the most recent friendly [a 1-1 last March]. When they set up their lines it can be difficult to play against them. We must study well how we can overcome them."