Mariano Diaz dreaming of Spain call-up

By Sports Desk September 13, 2018

Real Madrid attacker Mariano Diaz is desperate to play for Spain and switch his international allegiance from the Dominican Republic.

Mariano, who returned to Madrid in August following a year at Lyon, has only one international cap to his name for The Dominican Republic, whom he qualifies for through his mother.

That appearance, a 3-1 win over Haiti in which he scored, was a friendly back in March 2013, meaning his international future is uncertain because he has not featured in a competitive match.

The 25-year-old Barcelona-born forward is yet to play for Madrid this term and failed to score in his three Ligue 1appearances prior to the transfer, therefore a snub by Luis Enrique for Spain's recent games against England and Croatia was not a shock.

But Mariano now has his sights on breaking into Spain's squad, with Diego Costa, Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno among those ahead of him in the pecking order.

When asked by Cope's Partidazo if he saw Spain in Nations League action, Mariano said: "Yes, I did see it and of course I dream of Luis Enrique's call."

Upon his return to Madrid, Mariano took the number seven jersey vacated by Cristiano Ronaldo.

While Mariano is relishing the challenge of taking such an historic jersey, he insists he is not scared of the pressure that comes with it.

"Well, many people have told me [I am brave for taking the shirt], other people have also told me bad things," he said.

"It's a pressure to carry that number, but others have told me that I should not have chosen it. I've had everything [said to me].

"It was a number that was free and to me,  it is a number that I like. It's a personal challenge and I'm happy to wear the number that has been worn by many stars, like Amancio [Amaro], Juanito, [Emilio] Butragueno, Raul, and Cristiano, of course.

"Ever since I was little, I've seen them play and I'm happy."

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    Diego Simeone had little desire to discuss old foe Cristiano Ronaldo as Atletico Madrid prepare to host Juventus in a mouthwatering Champions League last-16 clash.

    Ronaldo completed a shock €112million switch to Juve in July, having won four Champions League titles with Real Madrid and become the LaLiga giants' all-time top scorer.

    The five-time Ballon d'Or recipient netted 22 times in Madrid derbies but, speaking at a pre-match news conference, Atletico head coach Simeone was more inclined to focus on his own enviable batch of talent.

    "He made a decision to change and has picked a big challenge in going to Juventus," Simeone said.

    "But we're thinking instead about [Antoine] Griezmann, [Alvaro] Morata, [Diego] Costa, Koke, Saul [Niguez]...

    "They are excited and very keen to play a good game.

    "I feel excited about being in the Champions League, which is such a nice competition, against an opponent as powerful as this.

    "After not making it this far last year, we want to grow as a club and a team."

    Atleti made the most of dropping down to the Europa League after last season's group stages, going on to win Europe's secondary club competition.

    They were beaten in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals by Madrid, in extra time and on penalties respectively.

    Juventus have also endured similar near misses in the modern era, coming up short in the 2015 and 2017 showpieces.

    "This is the last 16 and there's no trophy at this stage," Simeone said.

    "We face a powerful and strong opponent and a coach who has been at his club for many years, the same as is the case here.

    "They have players of great quality and status. We have tools as well to take the game where we want to.

    "Both these teams have a 50 percent chance. Neither side has a greater advantage than the other."

    Diego Costa is not ready to play 90 minutes, according to Simeone, having recently returned from foot surgery, while Koke (thigh) will be assessed.

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