Football

A defender with a 'striker's instinct'

Ramos spearheads Real's comeback by scoring one and forcing a Napoli own goal

Keylor Navas hailed his captain Sergio Ramos after the defender helped fire Champions League holders Real Madrid into the quarter-finals yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The La Liga club took a 3-1 lead to Italy for their last-16 second-leg meeting with Napoli and the long-serving Ramos helped Real to repeat that scoreline by cancelling out Dries Mertens' opening goal, and later forcing the Belgian into scoring an own goal.

Former Juventus striker Alvaro Morata added the gloss to a 6-2 aggregate win.

Centre back Ramos is enjoying the most prolific season of his career, having scored nine goals in all competitions thus far. Real goalkeeper Navas hopes the Spaniard continues with his rich vein of form.

The Costa Rican told realmadrid.com: "He's got a striker's instinct within him.

"Whenever he goes up for corners, we have real belief in him and, when it comes to headers, he's always got the ability to put the ball where he wants to.

"He is extremely important for us. He's gone and proved that again today, and here's hoping that he continues to pitch in with many more goals."

Before reflecting on the result itself, which took Real a step closer to becoming the first team to retain the Champions League title, coach Zinedine Zidane also praised Ramos, the club captain.

"We're pleased to have Sergio here, every now and then he comes up with a goal with his head," he said.

"We were made to suffer a lot in the first half, particularly in the early stages, when we weren't doing what we wanted to and they were applying a very high press.

"We improved things after the break and performed a lot better.

"We spent more time in their half and pressed higher up the field. We're pleased with how we've performed in the tie.

"We're capable of doing better than we did in the first half and we'll have to do so. Coming here and being put under pressure, we knew that we might struggle.

"The game is played over 90 minutes and we did very well in the second half.

"We can't be happy with the first-half display, but have to pleased with our second-half performance, in which we got the three goals."

Zidane also refused to criticise Gareth Bale after seeing his side struggle in a dismal first-half performance, in which the Welshman appeared reluctant to help out defensively.

DIFFERENCE IN FITNESS

Napoli had 11 shots in the opening period, the most Real had seen in a Champions League game since facing 15 against Juventus in 2013.

Zidane said: "I don't agree at all (that Bale did not perform his defensive duties). In the first half, none of us played well."

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri had warned of the threat from the "world's richest club, with the best players" a day earlier.

And Zidane's "Galacticos" emerged a different team after the break.

The Italian feels that the difference in fitness proved to be the difference between the two sides.

He said: "It's pretty clear that in physical terms, we're lacking something compared to teams like Real.

"In the opening half, we managed to keep them away from our own area a lot and that compensated somewhat. But, in the second half, it was more difficult." - WIRE SERVICES

Champions LeagueREAL MADRID