Ramos relishing African experience
In recent years, Spanish football has been synonymous with breaking records. The team which won over hearts and minds on their march towards UEFA EURO 2008 triumph have been untouchable ever since, and continue to score goals, win games and rewrite the statistics.
Spain began their FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 with a 5-0 win over New Zealand, with Fernando Torres bagging a hat-trick in 11 first-half minutes. It was La Roja's quickest-ever treble and also the fastest the competition has seen. Another player with something to celebrate was Sergio Ramos, who won his 50th international cap in Rustenburg, thus becoming Spain's youngest-ever player to reach the half-century at the age of 23 years and two months.
"It's true that it's an impressive number of matches, and I'm immensely proud," Ramos said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com at the Spanish camp in Mangaung/Bloemfontein. "But I don't waste time thinking about it - my main aim is to continue earning caps for Spain and, above all, to keep up the good results."
And there has certainly been no shortage of good results for the Spaniards. On 17 June, they will take on Iraq at the Free State Stadium in what will be their second Group A match. If they should avoid defeat, they would stretch their incredible unbeaten run to 34 games, leaving them just one behind the record set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996. "We can't deny that the record gives us extra motivation. Being on the brink of such an achievement is a sign that we're going about things in the right way," explained the Real Madrid right-back.
But Ramos does not even want to contemplate surpassing the magic figure of 35 in the Confederations Cup semi-finals, where Spain could face Brazil. "All the teams are here on merit as they're champions of their respective confederations, which is no small feat. I'm not thinking about the semi-finals and I'm sure the other teams aren't either. Right now, my entire focus is on the game against Iraq."
Beyond the purely sporting dimension, the match against the Iraqis has special significance for the young Spaniard. "Personally, it's a privilege to play against Iraq. Having seen the dreadful events which took place there for so many years, it's truly an honour to be able to play them in an international match. I think it's a testament to the scope of football and just how great a sport it is."
Ramos freely admits that at times, being in South Africa has been a moving experience. "As soon as we arrived, we felt at home. We were given a rapturous welcome - it's really special to see kids who must have a very hard life beaming from ear to ear as they welcome the Spanish team. South Africa is a beautiful setting for a tournament such as this, and will undoubtedly be a terrific host nation for next year's World Cup," he added.
While in Rustenburg, the squad found time to go on safari, which they all found to be an eye-opening experience. "When you go to a European country that you haven't seen before, there are new and interesting things to see, but it's nothing compared to finding yourself gazing up at a giraffe!" he said with a smile.
Despite his tender years, the number of international matches he has played, as well as his maturity when speaking about each new challenge, all go to show one thing: Sergio Ramos truly has an old head on his young shoulders.