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Mateo Kovacic responds to Pepe’s ‘strange’ claim ahead of Chelsea's clash with Porto

Mateo Kovacic says there is no truth to Pepe’s ‘strange’ claims that Chelsea celebrated drawing Porto in the Champions League and insists ‘it will not be easy’ for the club to reach this year’s semi-finals.

The Blues overcame Atletico Madrid to book their place in the quarter-finals, while Porto pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season to knock Juventus out of the competition.

Rumours began circulating last month that Thomas Tuchel’s squad wildly celebrated as the Portuguese champions were named as their opponents back on March 19, with Porto legend Paulo Futre ‘disgusted’ to learn about their supposed response.

And veteran defender Pepe, who was appointed Porto’s captain last October, added further fuel to the fire as he weighed in on Chelsea’s apparent reaction in the build-up to Wednesday’s much-anticipated first leg at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

‘It was public that Chelsea players celebrated the draw. But they also know that it will be a difficult game,’ the ex-Real Madrid centre-back told TNT Sports.

‘They know that we are a humble, hard-working, supportive team. In the spirit of our fans and what the coach demands of us as players, the work must always be there.

‘You can miss a pass, a ball control, a goal, but the work and the desire to win must always be present and that’s what we will try to demonstrate in the game in Seville.’

But Kovacic, who shared a dressing room with Pepe for three seasons during their time at Madrid, insists he and the rest of Chelsea’s squad have the utmost respect for their quarter-final opponents.

Asked whether there was any truth to the claims, the Chelsea and Croatia midfielder told reporters: ‘No. It’s strange to hear that from Pepe because I played with him for three years so I don’t know what he actually means with that or if he said it.

‘But of course not. I didn’t celebrate because when I played before at Real Madrid, I know that in these kind of stages there are no lucky opponents or bad opponents.

‘This is a tough draw, Porto is an amazing team which we saw against Juventus and they knocked them out so it’s a big opponent out.

‘They showed great character and a great team spirit and we need to show that as well tomorrow.

‘We need to try our best to go through but it will not be easy.’

Head coach Tuchel was also quick to play down the recent reports and stressed that his players are in for a ‘tough’ encounter against Pepe and Co.

‘We were able to lose to 19th place 5-2,’ the German said, referring to Chelsea’s shock defeat to West Brom at the weekend.

‘We are strong enough to overcome Porto but it will be a tough match.’

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