Rio de Janeiro: Ronaldinho apologised to Atletico Mineiro fans after describing a Copa Libertadores match against Sao Paulo as a "training session".
The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year made the comments Wednesday in a half-time television interview during Atletico`s 0-2 defeat to Sao Paulo in their final group match.
With the score 0-0 and Atletico having already secured their passage to the round of 16 as leaders of Group 3, Ronaldinho called on his teammates to treat the second half as preparation for the knockout phase.
"We have to go out there and have fun," the 33-year-old told reporters as he entered the players` tunnel. "It`s a big training run for the next phase for us."
The comments drew heavy criticism from Sao Paulo`s players and media, prompting the former Barcelona and AC Milan playmaker to deny he had been disrespectful.
"What I wanted to say was that the match was important for us to understand the importance of the competition and that we cannot afford to slip up," Ronaldinho said on Twitter Thursday.
"You can`t make mistakes against a team like Sao Paulo. We always have utmost respect for our opponents."
Despite the result, Atletico qualified for the knockout phase as the top ranked team and Sao Paulo the worst, meaning they will meet again in the next round.
The Copa Libertadores is Latin America`s premier club competition, comprising the best teams from South America and Mexico.