Just after half-time in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 decider against Manchester United FC, Sergio Ramos broke the deadlock. With the score 1-1 from the first leg, the Real Madrid CF centre-back had the ball in the net. Cue celebrations, but not from the Blancos' No4 who had turned it past his own goalkeeper to give United the lead. What did Ramos think at that moment?
"This will also pass," he tells Champions Matchday. "You always have the phrase in your head. You live with it, you have to be prepared for the good and the bad. I've been lucky and unfortunate to experience both."
That night at Old Trafford ended with the good. Three-two aggregate victors, Madrid booked their place in the quarter-finals where they currently hold a three-goal cushion against Galatasaray AŞ following Wednesday's home leg.
Ramos's coping mechanism for such on-field setbacks is to face them square on. Last June, when wearing the red of Spain, he laid the ghost of a missed spot kick two months earlier against FC Bayern München that put paid to Madrid's hopes of a UEFA Champions League final, by dinking the ball over Portugal's goalkeeper in the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2012. The perfect Panenka penalty.
"The penalty against Bayern ... these things happen in football," the 27-year-old said. "They don't happen when you are sleeping at home, they are missed by those who take them. I've always been confident at moments where there is a lot of pressure. I've always liked taking responsibility."
Ramos, who has a tattoo in English – 'unconquerable soul, master of my own destiny' – has won almost every major honour for club and country: the FIFA World Cup, two UEFA European Championships, three Liga titles and the Copa del Rey. The biggest omission is the UEFA Champions League. Winning that is one of his "biggest dreams". Eliminating United was another step towards realising that ambition and now Madrid must do the same to the Turkish champions, though both Ramos and Xabi Alonso will be suspended in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Ramos dismisses any notion it will be easy. "Facing Galatasaray is the opposite of a lucky draw. Teams have made it this far for a reason, and they have knocked out teams who were perhaps perceived as favourites. They're a strong side and they've strengthened with the addition of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder."
Ramos started out as a forward – his boyhood idol was Claudio Caniggia – played in midfield and made his name at right-back before moving from his native Sevilla FC, after one full season, to Madrid where he converted into a central defender. "There, you're the axis of the defence, you lead, organise, have hierarchy, status. You position the full-backs. My development has been intellectual, emotional too. You learn quickly at Madrid. I am a centre-back now."
Madrid have found their form at the right time, overcoming an early-season dip. Ramos says the key has been togetherness.
"Despite a poor start to the season, what followed was a more united group: more eager, more enthusiastic, more ambitious to keep improving, doing things right. But we can't set off the fireworks just yet because we haven't achieved anything. So we are putting in the same amount of work and concentration. We want to finish the season by experiencing victories and above all by winning trophies." Galatasaray have learned this already.
This is an edited version of an article in the current edition of Champions Matchday, official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. It is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print, and you can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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