*“Hasta el final, vamos Real” *(“Keep going to the end, Real”) is a popular chant at the Santiago Bernabeu, where there is one Real Madrid player in particular who seems to have adopted the slogan as his own.
The final of the 2014 UEFA Champions League, the final of the 2016 UEFA Super Cup, the recent clásico against Barcelona and last Saturday’s league match against Deportivo La Coruna all have one thing in common: Sergio Ramos scored a stoppage-time goal on each occasion to save the day for Los Blancos.
Club America of Mexico, who face the European champions in the second round of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 on Thursday, have been warned. They have no excuse for not keeping a very close eye on the centre-half should he be prowling their penalty box in injury time.
Ramos and his team-mates have just made the trip to Yokohama for their tilt at a second FIFA Club World Cup crown, the first having come two years ago in Morocco. “I’ve got great memories of that tournament,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “It was my first Club World Cup and, having won la Décima (Real Madrid’s tenth European Cup/UEFA Champions League title), it was a great challenge, both collectively and individually.”
He added: “I remember so many good things about that competition. I scored in the semis and the final and they gave me the Golden Ball. When you win the title, though, it’s just the icing on the cake.”
Hungry for more
Though the years may pass and the trophies keep coming, the 30-year-old central defender has lost none of his appetite for playing and winning: “I get up every day with the same desire to keep on improving, which is what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I’m not looking for recognition. All I want to do every year is do even better, forget about what we’ve won and set new challenges for myself. I’ll keep on going as long as the body allows.”
Though Real Madrid won their 11th European title this year, along with the UEFA Super Cup, Ramos wants more. “It’s really important to get another piece of silverware in your trophy cabinet. It’s also great for a professional player to be able to wear the Champions Badge for a year. We’d like to get it back as we had to pass it on last year,” he added with a smile, in reference to Barcelona’s victory in last year’s competition.
Zinedine Zidane’s team will have only one thing on their mind when they run out against America at the International Stadium Yokohama on Thursday, as Ramos, an admirer of defensive legends Fernando Hierro and Paolo Maldini, explained: “We want a happy ending to what’s been a good year for us. Being in Japan is a prize for us and we want to take the final reward with us.”
As good as 2016 has been so far, Ramos believes 2014 was even better. “Every season is very intense but I think that one, with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, was very consistent. I think we played truly excellent football and we maintained our rhythm.”
Though Zidane is now in charge, the squad has remained largely the same. “We’re doing a good job,” said the Merengue captain. “The structure and the core of the squad is the same, and that’s healthy for the team. We’ve got a better understanding with each other, and we’re on the same wavelength on the pitch too. The team’s reaping the benefits of that. We’ve got a good mix of veteran and young players.”
Though Colombian team-mate James Rodriguez has already told Ramos and Co about the strengths of the potential finalists from other half of the draw, describing Atletico Nacional as a “very good” side full of “matchwinners”, Ramos does not want Madrid to get ahead of themselves. “We can’t think about finals. You have to stay focused on the next match, because objectives can only be achieved step by step. You have deal with obstacles as they present themselves and you always have to show respect for the rivals you come up against.
“This Club World Cup gives us the chance to test ourselves against other styles of play that we’re perhaps not so used to,” said the goalscoring defender, who always fights to the end, game after game. “We have new goals to achieve, and new records to break. There are always new challenges.”