Spain Pin World Cup Hopes On Ramos
Sergio Ramos of Spain
Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque may be keeping public details of his game plan under wraps after an embarrassing opening loss to Switzerland.
But there is no secret that Sergio Ramos will be one of the first names on his team sheet.
The Real Madrid central defender has already won 60 caps for his country despite still being only 24 and the man who is a commanding presence in his own penalty area is also a menace to opponents in their own box, where his ability in the air has brought him half a dozen international goals.
Del Bosque will expect Ramos to be a rock on which Spain can regroup as they look to sweep aside Honduras on Monday before they look to seal qualification against Chile on Friday.
Durban's hiccup against the Swiss was only the European champions' second loss in 49 matches after which Ramos said he had been suffering throughout - and not just because of the result.
"I had such a pain in my ribs I could hardly move," Ramos explained after falling early on.
Nonetheless, tests have not shown up any injury as such and Ramos has been passed fit to start while Andres Iniesta, who did play despite a leg injury in the final warm-up match against Poland, is also fit.
"Everyone is fine. They had a setback (with the defeat) and they are tired - but what is afflicting them is mental fatigue," Del Bosque told reporters in midweek as the squad strove to keep their morale high at their base in Potchefstroom, 120km southwest of Johannesburg.
"The important thing is to stick to our style, which is what makes us win," striker Fernando Torres said Saturday, adding that the Spanish would "remain true to our ideas," the suggestion being that the Swiss outcome was a blip.
Spain, who coasted through their qualifiers, did indeed dominate but fell to Gelson Fernandes' scrappy goal against the run of play.
Del Bosque says Ramos is a key plank of his side.
"Sergio has the capacity to play anywhere - there are people who believe he could be a good midfielder," Del Bosque said last December.
Nonetheless, the Spanish are blessed with so much talent in midfield that even Cesc Fabregas regularly has to warm the bench so Ramos is unlikely to be moved forward.
Ramos last season had to rein in his tendency to move forward at the occasional expense of his defensive duties - though he did turn in a fine campaign at Real, despite their failure to shine in Europe.
"At the World Cup he will have to accentuate the defensive side of his game," sports daily Marca warned before the campaign started.
Del Bosque has indicated he will not look to ring the changes against Honduras and, as Torres has indicated, the Spanish clearly feel there is little wrong with their game overall - save for a relative lack of cutting edge when it came to getting into the Swiss penalty area.
This time, the best team in Europe and many observers' pre-tournament favourites for the title with Brazil, will hope Ramos holds the fort in their own half while taking comfort from the knowledge that he knows where the opponents' goal is if the strikers and midfield again fail to shine.