Sergio Ramos has rubbished suggestions that 2010 champions Spain could be kicked out of next summer’s World Cup for “political interference”.
Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that FIFA has contacted the Spanish football federation (RFEF) warning it that continued involvement from the centre-right Spanish government in the upcoming election for the football federation’s new president could result in them losing their place at next year’s tournament.
But Ramos, 31, on Friday refuted suggestions Spain’s appearance at next year’s finals was in jeopardy ahead of Real Madrid’s Club World Cup final with Brazil’s Gremio on Saturday night.
“We have played well and I don’t think it will cost us our achievement,” said the 149-times capped defender, behind only former Real teammate Iker Casillas (167) on the country’s all-time appearance list.
“I don’t think we will not play in Russia after all we have done. The results are there, we have won our matches. I don’t think anything can influence us playing there next year.”
La Roja qualified at the beginning of October, having finished top of UEFA Group G, beating out fellow European giants Italy.
The RFEF is currently led on an interim basis by Juan Luis Larrea, after former president Angel Maria Villar was forced to step down on corruption charges.
The government’s National Sports Council have made contact with the RFEF over Villar’s eventual successor and that would be in direct contradiction of FIFA’s strict rules.
FIFA can suspend the membership of any national football team if they judge the association has been influenced by external political pressure.
Earlier this year, the Pakistan Football Federation was banned by FIFA due to “undue third-party interference”, while the Kuwait Football Association was suspended between 2015-2017 for similar levels of interference.
The governing body of world football (FIFA) confirmed on Friday that it has written to the Spanish federation (RFEF) warning they could be suspended form the 2018 World Cup because of political interference.
Earlier in the day Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Spain had received “no such letter from FIFA.”
The issue centres on the RFEF presidency. Angel Maria Villar, who was also a senior FIFA and UEFA official, resigned after being arrested in July on suspicion of embezzling funds. Villar was replaced, on an interim basis, by Juan Luis Larrea, another long-time football administrator.
Even though he is only a stand-in, Larrea has made clear he wants to see out Villar’s term, which was due to end in 2020. The Spanish National Sports Agency (CSD) has objected and that prompted FIFA’s warning, reported on Friday by the daily El Pais.
“We can confirm that FIFA recently sent a letter to the Spanish FA (RFEF) expressing its concern at the current situation in the association and reiterating that, under the FIFA Statutes, all member associations must manage their affairs independently and ensure that there is no interference by third parties in internal matters,” said a FIFA statement.
“FIFA is in contact with the RFEF, and a joint FIFA-UEFA delegation will be sent to Madrid shortly to monitor and assess the situation in the association,” the statement continued.
The RFEF and the Spanish government insisted on Friday that Spain would go to the World Cup in Russia.
“I just can’t see that scenario,” Rajoy said at a press conference in Brussels. “I am absolutely convinced Spain will go to the World Cup, and will win.”
Rajoy said Spain’s sports minister had told him the Spanish authorities had “received no official communication from FIFA but only a letter from a member of FIFA requesting a meeting.” He said his government’s attitude was “exemplary.”
Villar was re-elected for an eighth term as president last May. He had run the RFEF for 29 years until his arrest on suspicion of creating a network of corruption in Spanish football.
Last month, Luis Rubiales, the former head of the players’ union and an ally of Villar’s put forward a motion of censure against Larrea with the objective of becoming president himself. That motion is scheduled for a vote on January 16.
At the same time, the Spanish cabinet, acting on requests from the CSD, demanded fresh RFEF elections because of irregularities in the vote last May. FIFA sees this as external political interference.
Former Tunisia defender Radhi Jaidi believes his country’s opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup against England will be crucial in determining whether they enjoy a successful tournament.
Tunisia, back at the World Cup finals after a 12-year hiatus, were drawn alongside the Three Lions, Belgium and Panama in Group G at Friday’s draw in Russia.
Nabil Maaloul’s side will face England in Volgograd in their first group fixture, before taking on Belgium in Moscow five days later. They will still hope to be in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages when they clash with World Cup debutants Panama in their final Group G game in Saransk.
Jaidi, who played at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and won the 2004 African Cup of Nations with Tunisia, feels a positive result in the opening game against Gareth Southgate’s England could be the confidence boost Tunisia need to cause a shock and progress to the knockout stages.
“It will open a big door for us if we can get at least a draw to give us our first point. That will give the players the confidence to feel that they can compete,” Jaidi told Sport360°.
“England are sometimes nervous when it comes to the big competitions, but I feel they are starting to prove themselves and come back onto the scene with the bigger teams.
“Then if we can get a win against Panama in the final game and we have four points, that could give us the opportunity to progress, but I think that first game is key. A positive result will give us the power and confidence for the Belgium game, to know we can compete with the top teams.
“I think for Tunisia it is definitely a difficult group. Belgium for me are one of the contenders to win the World Cup itself and England have to be respected with the players they have got.”
Jaidi was part of the last Tunisian side to feature at a World Cup back in 2006, which came just two years after they had lifted the African Nations Cup on home soil. Under manager Maaloul, the 42-year-old believes the current crop can help put Tunisia back on the map.
“It’s massive for Tunisia. I have said before it’s important for the country, not just the national team,” Jaidi added. “We’ve gone through a difficult period since the revolution in 2010 and since that we felt it even in sport and we didn’t manage to get back to that level.
“Qualifying for this World Cup is a message to the world that we’re heading in the right way. Hopefully our football and sport will get back to the level, or even bigger than before, and that will take our country further.
“I watched the qualifying games and I think we have some good individuals. They are young, but they have a big desire to go and achieve something for the country. We have always played for the flag.
“We have a group who can compete together, not as individuals,” he continued. “When I was playing it was always about working for each other, defending for each other and defending the Tunisian flag in every game and competition we played.
“The preparation needs to be perfect and the tactics need to be just right and adjusted to suit the teams that we are playing, so we can impose ourselves and give us a chance of reaching the knockout stages. Then we will rely on the group mentality and the spirit within the team to get us good results.”