MADRID (AP) — For the first time in 15 years, Spain finds itself preparing for a major tournament without Sergio Ramos.
The veteran defender, however, is still attracting much of the attention ahead of the European Championship as Spain starts its preparations in Madrid.
“Sergio Ramos has always been with the national team, so it’s a bit strange that he isn’t here now,” Koke Resurrección said Tuesday at the team’s training camp.
Ramos had been with “La Roja” for every major tournament since the 2006 World Cup, having first made the senior team in 2005 at age 18. He was a surprising absence for the Euro 2020 squad despite a season plagued by injuries. Coach Luis Enrique decided to leave the veteran captain off his list because of a lack of play in recent months.
The 35-year-old Ramos missed most of the second half of the season with Real Madrid after a series of muscle injuries and a knee problem that required surgery. He also tested positive for COVID-19 in April, but was expected to be injury free by the time Euro 2020 started.
Many in Spain criticized Luis Enrique for leaving the star defender out, especially because the coach decided not to use two of the 26 spots available, with Ramos potentially benefiting the squad with his experience and leadership even if he wasn't fully fit.
“In the end, these decisions are made by the coach, he is the one who announces the list,” said Koke. “It wasn’t only Sergio Ramos who was left out, but also other very important players for their clubs, and other very important players for Spain. We have to respect these decisions.”
Luis Enrique said he didn’t want to pick a full complement of 26 players because some wouldn’t end up being used at all.
“There is always controversy when it comes to any decision related to Ramos,” Luis Enrique said when the list was announced. ”But I see it as something normal, I don’t think his absence will affect the national team.”
Ramos came out supporting the coach’s decision, saying that in his case it was best to rest and try to fully recover for the future. He had hinted before that he could play in the Tokyo Olympics, and was still aiming at playing in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Ramos is close to breaking the record for most appearances for a national team. He already holds the European record with 180 appearances, four fewer than the world record held by Egypt player Ahmed Hassan.
Spain is in Group E along with Sweden, Poland and Slovakia. Its two warm-up matches are against Portugal on Friday and Lithuania on June 8. Its first group match is against Sweden in Seville on June 14.
The team held its first practice session on Monday without a full squad. Players from Villarreal and Manchester United, which played in the Europa League final last week, arrived for the training camp on Tuesday. Players from Manchester City and Chelsea, which contested Saturday’s Champions League final, were scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.
Ramos won't arrive at all this time, and will watch Spain play on television.
“I’ll be another fan cheering on from home," he said.
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press