Pique is having to shoulder more responsibility in the Spanish team in the absence of his injured Barcelona team mate, the experienced and respected Carles Puyol. -Photo by Reuters

GNIEWINO, Poland: Gerard Pique's reputation as something of a joker and his glamorous popstar partner Shakira make him one of the more colourful characters in the ranks of the highly disciplined and professional Spain team.

With his spiky quiff and cheeky smile, the 25-year-old defender is fond of pranks like hiding team mates' clothing and equipment - he once made Barcelona's Victor Valdes late for a training session by pinching his goalkeeping gloves.

But there is a serious and steely side to Pique that has served the world and European champions well on their run to the last four of Euro 2012 and he is widely considered one of the most accomplished centre backs around.

In an interview at Spain's training base in Gniewino, northern Poland on Monday, he said it was important to inject some humour into what can be a dreary experience at major tournaments, when the players are a long way from home and need to fill the hours between training and matches.

“I like to have a joke and a good time,” a smiling Pique, wearing a red Spain shirt and sitting behind a small desk, told Reuters.

“When you are taking part in a tournament like this where you have to be together for a month if you don't try to have some fun then it can get monotonous and a bit wearing,” he added as rain and wind lashed the window.

“Of course when it comes to the matches and you are out there on the pitch you have to be totally focused on your work.

“You can't joke around then as you can pay for it by conceding a goal.”

PRICKLY RELATIONSHIP

Pique is having to shoulder more responsibility in the Spanish team in the absence of his injured Barcelona team mate, the experienced and respected Carles Puyol.

Puyol's position in the centre of defence has been filled by Sergio Ramos, who played at right back during Spain's triumphant World Cup campaign in 2010 but has now switched to the middle for both Real Madrid and his country.

The pairing of Pique and Ramos, whose clubs are bitter rivals, prompted mutterings about a prickly relationship but Pique dismissed the idea out of hand.

“It is working out really well,” he said, pointing to the fact that Spain have only conceded one goal in their four matches at Euro 2012.

“It's true that we miss Puyi but Sergio is a player with a great deal of quality.

“With every match we are improving as a partnership and we are getting to know each other better all the time. I think the defence in general has been excellent.”

Pique and his team mates are busy preparing for Wednesday's semi-final against Iberian neighbours Portugal, whom they knocked out of the 2010 World Cup at the last 16 stage with a 1-0 success.

The last time they faced each other, however, in a friendly in Lisbon, Portugal romped to a 4-0 victory and Pique said Spain were looking to learn the lessons from that humiliating reverse.

“It's not that it hurts still but it's certainly a game we need to keep in mind,” he said.

“They did a lot of things right and we did not so we need to analyse that.

“We have to put in a performance more like the one at the World Cup, where I think we played a very good match.”

There was time for one last question about the outlook for Wednesday's game in Donetsk.

“We have to trust in ourselves and maintain the essence of our game, which is to control the ball and starve them of possession,” Pique said.

“Above all we have to be extremely alert to the threat of their wide players Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.

“We need to deny them space because if they find it that is when they are at their most dangerous.”

Updated Jun 25, 2012 03:50pm

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