INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

Costa and Ramos bury hatchet in new role as Spain teammates

On-field club hostility to be set aside for match against Italy

Diego Costa in the Spanish national side's shirt.
Diego Costa in the Spanish national side's shirt.CARMELO RUBIO / RFEF

Sergio Ramos and Diego Costa epitomize the renewed rivalry between Real Madrid and Atlético, but on Monday the combative pair became teammates for the first time, wearing the national shirt of Spain. Vicente del Bosque named Costa, a Brazil-born naturalized Spaniard, in his squad to face Italy at the Vicente Calderón on Wednesday (TVE1, 10pm) and it is very likely that the Atlético striker will make his debut for La Roja in the stadium of his club, for which he has scored 27 goals this season.

The simmering tensions between Real and Barcelona that characterized the tenures of José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, respectively, have largely subsided this season under Carlo Ancelotti and Gerardo Martino, considerably less combustible figures than their predecessors.

However, Atlético’s emergence under Diego Simeone as a genuine contender for silverware has reawakened a dormant rivalry, which was kept in check by Real’s decade-and-a-half dominance over its capital city neighbor. A Costa goal earlier in the season secured a first league win in 14 years over the Bernabéu club – an affront exacerbated by Atlético having the temerity to win the King’s Cup at Real’s expense, in Real’s stadium, last summer in what was the rojiblancos’ first win in any competition over the same timeframe.

When the sides met in a cup double-header last month, Costa and Ramos picked up the personal duel that started when the former was at Rayo and has punctuated recent meetings between Real and Atlético. This continued on Saturday in the return league encounter at the Calderón – ahead of the game Costa spoke bluntly of his set-tos with Ramos: “We are getting on better and better, but if I have to hit him, I will hit him, and if he has to hit me, he will hit me. As long as it stays on the pitch.” The match ended 2-2 to leave Real top of the Liga standings but Atlético just three points adrift behind Barcelona. However, there was plenty of sportsmanship after the match, with both sides shaking hands in the spirit of the game.

Costa: “We are getting on
better and better, but if I have
to hit him, I will hit him”

On Monday, both Costa and Ramos reported to Spain’s Las Rozas training complex to join forces for the first time. “Obviously now that we are teammates we will treat each other differently,” said Real’s vice-captain. “But on the field you tend to forget about everything and you defend your own interests.”

Quizzed by reporters as he decamped at Las Rozas, Ramos stressed that there was “no problem” between him and Costa, who has described himself as “no saint” on the field. “There’s no issue, it’s all part of our sport. We are there to defend our interests and that’s fine as long as there is no disrespect and it doesn’t stain the image of the sport, which should serve to unite. He said it very well himself; now we are national teammates and what happens on the field should stay there and there should be no misunderstandings off it.”

But having faced Costa on several occasions, Ramos was in no doubt as to the quality he can bring to a side struggling for on-form strikers. “We hope to see the best version of him. He is here deservedly, he’s a great choice and he can bring a lot to the team.”

 

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