Record-setting Sergio Ramos looks to future as bridge to Spain's golden past
Sergio Ramos is only nine matches short of the European record for international appearances held by Gianluigi Buffon and 17 shy of the world record set by Egypt's Ahmed Hassan.
Sergio Ramos first took the field for Spain as a callow teen against China in 2005
He remains in the national side as one of the last survivors of a golden era that delivered a World Cup and two European Championships
Ramos replaced Casillas as Spain captain in 2016
Madrid: Sergio Ramos is set to overtake Iker Casillas and become his country's most capped player with his 168th international appearance on Saturday as Spain take on Denmark hoping to secure a place at Euro 2020.
The 33-year-old first took the field for Spain as a callow teen against China in 2005, a 3-0 win that featured goals from Fernando Torres and Xavi Hernandez -- as well as Joaquin. He remains in the national side as one of the last survivors of a golden era that delivered a World Cup and two European Championships.
Ramos replaced Casillas as Spain captain in 2016. He intends to play for many years yet, saying that "statistics are there to beat" when he equalled the goalkeeper's record of 167 caps last month.
"Sergio Ramos wants to play until he's 40 and I think he'll get there because he's amazing, in every way," Spain coach Robert Moreno said last week.
"We can only say great things about Sergio. His attitude has always been impeccable whenever we have called upon him."
When Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique followed Xavi and called time on their Spain careers in 2018, they left Ramos as a bridge to the past, his array of trophies providing a base of experience from which the next generation might flourish.
Since also replacing Casillas as Real Madrid captain in 2015 Ramos has piled up Champions League triumphs, but he is yet to preside over similar success as 'La Roja' leader.
Spain were knocked out of Euro 2016 in the last 16 by Italy. They then suffered the humiliation of losing to unfancied hosts Russia on penalties at the World Cup two years later.
However, his place in Spanish football history is secure and he is considered a leader by his fellow Spain internationals, despite his reputation as a practitioner of the game's darker arts.
"He has an aura and he is an example to follow", said Spain midfielder Pablo Sarabia, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain and came through as a youngster under Ramos at Real Madrid.
"He is an extraordinary player and he has this ability to bring people together. When you think about that number of games he has played for Spain, he is a role model."
Spain have been impeccable in Euro qualifying. They lead Group F with a perfect 18 points and come into the international break with the chance to secure a place at next year's finals.
They can advance on Saturday if they beat Norway and other results take an unexpected turn, with either Malta upset Sweden or Romania fail to beat the Faroe Islands.
"We have not won anything yet. We want to be first in our group and to collect all 30 points possible," said Ramos.
Ramos, who also intends to compete in the Tokyo Olympics next year, may have other records in his sights too.
He is only nine matches short of the European record for international appearances held by former Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and 17 shy of the world record set by Egypt's Ahmed Hassan.
If Ramos plays until he is 40 as he wishes, both are well within reach.
From a 10-point gap at the close of January, Atletico Madrid have seen their lead cut down by Real Madrid and Barcelona. A Clasico win would help the two's title ambitions further.
Real Madrid might have taken more comfort from Liverpool's problems were they not confronting their own period of introspection.
Both players' contracts are up at the end of the campaign and Messi is yet to commit to a new deal with Barca after trying to force an exit last summer.