Real Madrid gave its ''complete support'' to team captain Sergio Ramos on Saturday after the defender was criticized for upsetting fans of former club Sevilla.
A day before the top two teams in the Spanish league meet in Seville, Madrid released a statement saying Ramos' ''conduct is and has always been exemplary throughout his sporting career, to the point where he now represents a benchmark in values for all fans of football and sport in general.''
Ramos angered Sevilla fans on Thursday in a Copa del Rey match when he converted a penalty kick ''Panenka'' style - a gentle tap down the middle - and further upset home fans with his celebration. Ramos apologized to the majority of the fans, but said those supporters who insulted him during the game didn't deserve his respect.
''The sport should be a meeting place and common ground, not an environment of insults, hurling objects or any other manifestation of violence,'' Madrid said in its statement. ''Real Madrid has always highlighted its willingness to collaborate with other clubs to eradicate violence at football stadiums and we therefore join the call made by Sevilla for the fans attending tomorrow's (Sunday's) game ... to enjoy the sport on a basis of respect and tolerance.''
Sevilla on Friday criticized supporters who had disparaged Ramos and asked its fans to ''refrain from insulting rival clubs and players.'' But it also requested the Spanish league to consider sanctions against Ramos for his actions during the goal celebration.
In contrast, Madrid lavished praise on Ramos.
''He's our captain and he's an example for everybody, not just inside our dressing room. He's surely the most iconic player in Spain,'' Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. ''What happened is already in the past.''
The 30-year-old Ramos is a native of Seville and used to play for Sevilla before transferring to Madrid in 2005. But the player was at odds with the club president at the time and fans were not happy with how the negotiations were conducted.
''The matter is closed and we all want to see a great football match,'' Zidane said. ''We have all called for respect, not only for Sergio, but for all the players. We only want to think about football.''
Madrid arrives at the decisive game at the Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium looking to defend a four-point league lead over second-placed Sevilla. It advanced to the Copa del Rey quarterfinals 6-3 on aggregate after Thursday's 3-3 draw against the rival, a result that secured Zidane's team the Spanish record of 40 unbeaten games in all competitions.
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