Spain looking for a partner for Ramos in defense

Spain's defender Sergio Ramos, left, and Norway's forward Joshua King vie for the ball during their Euro 2020 qualifying match. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

Spain looking for a partner for Ramos in defense

  • Since Piqué retired from the national team Spain have struggled to find a reliable partner for Ramos

MADRID: Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué were the pillar of Spain’s defense for years and were crucial to the team’s success over the last decade.

The central defenders formed an uncontested duo that helped “La Roja” dominate world football, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2012.

But since Piqué retired from the national team after last year’s World Cup, Spain have struggled to find a reliable partner for Ramos in defense.

The 33-year-old Ramos has been with the national team since 2005 and set a record for most appearances with Spain on Saturday, in the team’s 1-1 draw at Norway in qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. He surpassed Iker Casillas’ mark by playing in his 168th match with the
national team.

Ramos has been surrounded mostly by newcomers since Piqué decided to focus on his time with Barcelona, and none has taken over as an indisputable replacement.

One of the most experienced defenders who made it to Spain’s squad recently is 34-year-old Raúl Albiol, who has little more than 50 appearances with the national team.

Against Norway, it was only the second time Albiol partnered with Ramos. Despite a decent performance by the Villarreal defender, Spain could not hold on to a late lead, conceding an equalizer in stoppage time to postpone Spain’s qualification for Euro 2020.

Iñigo Martínez was another central defender who played against Norway, replacing leftback Juan Bernat in the final minutes to try to aid the defense near the end.

“La Roja” will get another chance to qualify on Tuesday when they visit Sweden, when coach Robert Moreno will have an even greater challenge to overcome as Ramos will not be available because of suspension.

Other recent partners for Ramos include Nacho Fernández, Mario Hermoso and Diego Llorente. Also called up after Pique’s departure were Unai Nuñez and Pau Torres, the 22-year-old Villarreal defender touted as a future star but who is yet to make an appearance with the national team.

“When I was younger I looked up to defenders like Gerard and Sergio,” Torres said. “For me it’s a privilege to be able to share the changing room with Sergio Ramos and to learn from him and from the other defenders on the team.”

Ramos, Spain’s longtime captain, recently also surpassed Casillas’ record for most wins with the Spanish national team. He hasn’t talked much about his own retirement, although some rumors surfaced when he recently admitted to the possibility of joining Spain’s Under-23 squad to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Moreno said he sees the possible attempt by Ramos as a way for him to stay motivated and add to his already successful career.

“It would be unfair to keep players in the national team only because of their names,” Moreno said. “They would be the first to say that they don’t want to keep playing if they are not at a high level.

“But I’m certain that Sergio will keep practicing hard day after day and I’m certain that he will keep playing at this level.”

Kimmich: Bayern need to stay ‘hungry’ for Champions League bid

Updated 09 July 2020

Kimmich: Bayern need to stay ‘hungry’ for Champions League bid

  • Under head coach Flick, Bayern have won all 11 games since the season resumed in mid-May

BERLIN: Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich says the double-winning German champions must stay “fully focused and greedy” for more silverware during their two-week holiday before launching their assault on the Champions League.

“Now it’s time to recharge our batteries and then tackle the Champions League with full focus and greed,” the 25-year-old told magazine Sport Bild.

Head coach Hans-Dieter Flick sent Bayern on a two-week holiday after winning the German Cup last Saturday before fine-tuning their preparations for the Champions League.

After completing the double with a 4-2 cup final win over Leverkusen, Bundesliga champions Bayern are on a 17-match winning streak dating back to February.

Under Flick, Bayern have won all 11 games since the season resumed in Germany in mid-May amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bayern are chasing a treble and are among the favorites in Europe after routing Chelsea 3-0 in London in the last 16, first leg, last February before the Champions League halted due to COVID-19.

Bayern still need to finish the tie to reach the quarterfinals and the draw for the remaining rounds in the knockout stages takes place this Friday. Kimmich called on his teammates to keep training during their break to maintain the “hunger” for the Champions League finals in Lisbon next month.

“It will be decisive how we return from vacation: We want to keep that feeling, that hunger,” Kimmich added.

Having stumbled last November, when Flick succeeded Niko Kovac who was sacked following a 5-1 thrashing by Frankfurt, Bayern are now in great form.

Robert Lewandowski has scored 51 goals this season, including 34 in the Bundesliga and is the Champions League’s top-scorer with 11.

Behind the Poland striker, Thomas Mueller has 25 assists, including a record 21 in the Bundesliga.

Kimmich has bossed the defensive midfield alongside Germany teammate Leon Goretzka and suggests Bayern have developed a mental edge.

“In the last two seasons, mentality has been the most important factor in winning the German league title,” said Kimmich.

“FC Bayern may be ahead of other teams in this respect.”