- Real Madrid captain has three FIFA Club World Cups to his name
- Picked up adidas Golden Ball at 2014 tournament
- He and his team-mates face Kashima Antlers in semis
For the third year in a row, Europe will be represented at the FIFA Club World Cup by Real Madrid. And while last year Los Blancos became the first club to successfully defend the global crown, this time around a new challenge has presented itself as they bid to become the most successful team in the tournament’s history. Indeed, if they claim their fourth title in the United Arab Emirates, they will move above their great rivals, Barcelona, in the all-time standings.
Real Madrid’s players have no need of these facts and figures in order to motivate themselves for the prestigious event, of course. “Winning is always our aim – that’s the club mentality,” said Sergio Ramos in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
The Real captain first played in this competition in Morocco in 2014. In addition to helping his side emerge victorious, he also collected the adidas Golden Ball award. Unsurprisingly, it is the edition of the tournament of which he has the fondest memories.
“It’s my favourite due to the award I received, sure, but also for how it all panned out,” explained the experienced Spaniard. “I was lucky enough to score a goal in the semi-final, but then I got injured. It seemed like I might not make the final, but in the end I took some painkillers and was able to play, and on top of that I scored again. The team won, and the truth is it’s a very special memory.
“Individual accolades are always pleasing, but the collective mentality always outweighs any personal aspects. I’d much rather the team won.”
After triumphing at Japan 2016 and UAE 2017, Los Merengues return to Abu Dhabi with two notable differences compared to their last two appearances: Zinedine Zidane is no longer in charge, and Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer leading the line.
Ramos, however, was keen to downplay these absences. “I don’t think you’ll see much of a difference on the pitch,” he said. “We’ve got quite a similar team, despite losing Cristiano, who was a very decisive player for us. We’ll compete with the same approach that the club has always taken. Winning is always the objective.
“The Club World Cup is a reward for your success in the previous season. It gives you an opportunity to confirm your standing by becoming world champions, and it’s a wonderful experience. We’ve got some really nice memories of it, because we’ve been successful on previous occasions. It’s a short competition and there’s no margin for error. There’s a semi-final and then a final, and we want to bring the Cup back home.”
Experience is always a key factor in these competitions, and Real Madrid will kick off with the psychological advantage of knowing they claimed the title in the same city 12 months ago by beating Porto Alegre-based Gremio in the final.
“All these things do play a role,” said Ramos. “Real Madrid have a great history behind them, but you can’t dwell on that too much because the badge alone doesn’t win you matches. Each time things get a bit tighter, but there’s no doubt that experience is very important, and we have a lot of it.”
He concluded with the message that he, as team captain, tries to pass on to his team-mates every day: “If you believe it, you can do it. We have a fantastic team and we must trust ourselves, while giving our opponents the utmost respect, obviously.”
Kashima Antlers, Wednesday’s semi-final challengers, are certainly deserving of such respect, having already made things rather more difficult than expected for the Spanish giants in the 2016 final.