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Sergio Ramos better in air than Cristiano Ronaldo - Carlos Santillana

Ex-Real Madrid centre-forward Carlos Santillana said the club's current captain and regular key goal-scoring hero Sergio Ramos has "the mentality of a forward" and the "intuition" to know exactly how best to attack crosses into the penalty area.

Ramos' latest exploits in the opposition penalty area came in Tuesday's Champions League round-of-16 second leg at Napoli when, with his team 1-0 down on the night and looking in danger of a shock exit from the competition, he twice rose to meet Toni Kroos' corners and ensure his team would progress to the quarterfinals.

The Andalusian appearing at the right moment to head home vital goals has become a regular sight. Of his 21 goals since the memorable 93rd minute intervention which sent the 2014 Champions League final to extra-time, 18 have come when Madrid were either losing or tied.

These have included other huge moments including the 2016 Champions League final opening goal, and last gasp equalisers in both last August's European Supercup against Sevilla, and last December's La Liga Clasico at the Camp Nou.

Santillana was loved by the Bernabeu in the 1980s for his own towering headers, and he told AS that the way Ramos attacked the ball coming across the penalty area was key.

"Sergio has impressive physical power, and a very strong jump," Santillana said. "When he goes forward, he has the mentality of a forward. He knows by intuition where the ball will go, he anticipates very well and he is strong.

"He attacks the ball, that is the key. Look at the number of important goals he has scored with his head, even some worth Champions Leagues..."

Ramos was even more dangerous in the air than his attacking teammates Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, said Santillana.

"Sergio is in with other great headers of the ball, in the same team, but he goes for the ball with more belief," he said. "He attacks the ball very well. He has that quality, apart from the great centre-back which he is, as he is among the best in the world."

Before Tuesday's game, Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri had spoken about the need to keep an eye on Ramos at set-pieces. Santillana said that knowing what might happen, and being able to stop it, were two different things.

"It is clear he is good at this, so opponents usually have a plan to mark him, they keep a very close eye, and even still, he does it," he said. "Maybe it is because Madrid have many other players who are good in the air for defences to worry about. But Sergio has a lot of belief. He does not go forward just to see what might happen. He goes into attack with the mentality of a centre-forward."

What Ramos has is not really something you can train for or learn from coaching, Santillana explained.

"There is a technique in heading the ball, of course, but anticipating and attacking the ball, being in the right place, is something natural," he said. "To score a goal like that, there is a process. You must know where to position yourself, when to start to run, synchronise the jump and make good contact, turning your neck and directing the ball. You either have that intuition or you don't. It's the same with the forwards."

Ramos has joined him on the list of world football's best ever headed goal scorers, Santillana said.

"I was not upset when people started to use the phrase [about me] that had once said about the legend Telmo Zarra: 'The best head in Europe since Churchill,'" he recalled.

"But now there is also Cristiano and Bale, for example. And there have been many others: [Fernando] Morientes, [Ivan] Zamorano, Quini, [Jose Mari] Bakero, [Jesus Maria] Satrustegui.

"It was something centre-forwards had when the game was played with pure wingers. In Spain there have always been good headers of the ball. And elsewhere [Marco] Van Basten, [Gabriel] Batistuta, and more recently [Didier] Drogba."