How Sergio Ramos’ unmatched determination resuscitated La Décima

How Sergio Ramos’ unmatched determination resuscitated La Décima

This feature is part of Virtuoso

The shootout was quickly becoming an unmitigated disaster. While Bayern Munich’s first two shot takers had executed their jobs to perfection, Real Madrid’s most trusted, Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo, failed in spectacular fashion. Hope was rapidly slipping away, before Iker Casillas denied Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm in succession to inject some belief back into his team. Sandwiched between them, Xabi Alonso calmly scored on his attempt, making it 1-2 and setting the stage for prime time drama. 

With pandemonium now coursing through the veins of the Santiago Bernabéu, Sergio Ramos gingerly approached as the penalty spot awaited his inevitable arrival. With hands over their faces, some of his teammates could barely watch, while his manager, José Mourinho, was down on his knees, praying at the altar of the footballing gods. Armed with the chance to put his beloved club one step closer to that all elusive final, Ramos made his run up to the ball.

In one sweeping motion, he seemingly threw all 82kg of his body weight behind the shot, sending the ball into orbit and nowhere near the goal. A collective groan was let out by the people in attendance, shaking the very foundation of this footballing temple. In an instant, all hope was lost and everyone knew it. Bastian Schweinsteiger converted shortly after and Real Madrid were dumped from the Champions League in heart-wrenching fashion.

In a season in which they won LaLiga – setting records for both points amassed and goals scored, 100 and 121, respectively – there was still a feeling of something lost. Those sensations soon manifested themselves into anger and the search for a scapegoat began. Despite the club’s two most expensive players suffering the same fate, it was Ramos who would bear the lion’s share of the blame. 

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Carrying that disappointment into the following season, Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign would short-circuit in the semi-final again. The club that once came to define a tournament was seemingly trapped inside its voodoo with no reprieve in sight. José Mourinho’s scorched earth of a departure saw Carlo Ancelotti appointed in order to restore a sense of normalcy. 

The Italian’s calming nature instantly rubbed off on his new side. Recent years had seen Los Blancos self-destruct at the least opportune of times yet this time was different. Awaiting Madrid in the knockout phases of the Champions League would be a gauntlet of German sides. Schalke, Dortmund and Bayern would all test their hand, confident in extending Real’s misery. Instead, Ancelotti’s men destroyed the opposition, beating the three by a combined aggregate score of 17-4. At last, the club would be playing in the game it once reserved as its birthright.

Heading into the Champions League final, Ramos’ statistical tallies read more like a striker rather than a defender. Since 26 April, the Andalucian had scored six goals, with five of them coming in a four-game stretch and two of which put Bayern Munich to the sword in a 20-minute barrage that culminated in a 4-0 demolition of their Bavarian rivals. Ramos had never truly forgotten that immense feeling of loneliness in 2012 and, now, he was resolute in his quest for redemption. 

The scene was set. The Estádio da Luz in the capital of Portugal would decide the 2013/14 champions of Europe, with two teams from the same city battling it out for the first time in the tournament’s storied history. Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid: the club with all the history against the club trying to catch up. 

At the sound of the first whistle, the physicality between the sides was very much evident. Things would begin to boil over in the 27th minute when Raúl García was shown a yellow card after a rash challenge from behind on Ángel Di María. Never the one to bite his tongue, Ramos ran up and got into García’s face, earning himself a yellow. In the 36th minute, Diego Godín got his head onto a ball sent into the box and lobbed it over an unsure Casillas. Despite a desperate scramble by the goalkeeper to swat the ball off the line, he wasn’t quick enough, and Atléti took a stunning 1-0 lead.

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With each passing tick, a second was being shaved off the collective lives of supporters for both clubs. Around 150 of them were now all that was left on the clock before Atlético Madrid were to be crowned champions of Europe for the first time. Frantically pushing forward, Real Madrid were able to secure a corner and a faint glimmer of hope. The time for chalkboard-prepared schemes was over. Luka Modrić grabbed the ball, rushed to the corner and launched it into the sea of humanity with little more than a hope and a prayer. 

Muddled amongst them, Ramos manoeuvred past four Atléti defenders and leapt into the Lisbon sky like a salmon above an onrushing stream. With momentum pushing him to his right and gravity attempting to shackle him back down to earth, he forcibly headed the ball with a trajectory towards the bottom-left corner of the goal. It was in that moment that time seemingly froze.

Millions of people around the world sat with bated breath and fixated eyes. Thibaut Courtois and his near-two metre frame stretched to its absolute limit, but it wasn’t enough. The ball sneaked past his glove and the Real Madrid contingent behind the goal went bezerk. So close to being extinguished, the 12-year dream of La Décima was once again set alight. 

With Atlético’s legs now hurting almost as badly as their hearts, Real Madrid knew the game was theirs for the taking. Tireless, and in the form of his career, Di María ambushed the left side of Atléti’s defence before firing a venomous shot that ricocheted into the air off of Thibaut Courtois. There, primed to pounce, Gareth Bale found the ball mid-flight and headed it in at the far post. Madrid would add two more in the extra period to plunge the knife deeper into their rivals yet it was Ramos’ goal that had effectively finished them off. 

92:48: a single set of numbers that will forever be seared into the minds of every Madrid fan and member of the club. Numbers that are also now tattooed for eternity on the skin of the man who made them mean something. There have been more difficult goals. There have been more aesthetically pleasing goals. But there are only a few that we will never forget; the ones that define a player’s career. From despair to elation, Sergio Ramos resuscitated La Décima and, with it, etched his name in the history books of virtuoso performances.

By Justin Sherman @JShermOfficial

Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp

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