PARIS • Enemies at club level, Spain's Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique have united to build the bedrock upon which a quest to win a third consecutive European Championship is built.
The two-time defending champions face a horrible draw if they are to make it back to Paris on July 10 for the final.
A blockbuster last-16 clash with old foes Italy tomorrow could be followed by meetings with world champions Germany and hosts France after Spain conceded late to lose and let top spot in Group D slip away against Croatia in midweek.
A rematch of the 2012 final brings with it the challenge of breaching Italy's famed "BBC" defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Real Madrid captain Ramos and Pique - the most outspoken member of Barcelona's star-studded squad - have often clashed, particularly this season as the old fault lines of Spanish football reappeared.
Pique was repeatedly booed and jeered by Spain fans after poking fun at Real following Barca's treble success in the 2014-15 season. And he refused to back down, stating: "I always want Madrid to lose."
Ramos bit back: "Veterans like Pique should avoid such childishness."
As a proud Catalan, Pique's commitment to the Spanish national team has also been questioned. As recently as Tuesday he had to fend off ludicrous accusations that he had raised his middle finger during the Spanish anthem.
"I am crossing my fingers during the anthem," he posted on Twitter.
Pique has already come to Spain's rescue at the other end of the field in Euro 2016, scoring a late winner in their 1-0 opening win over the Czech Republic.
Ramos was first to congratulate his defensive partner, leaping onto Pique's shoulders with the latter posting the picture on Twitter, adding: "I suppose I don't need to say anything more... we are a magnificent team!"
And whoever stands strongest between Spain's glamour centre-back pairing and Italy's "BBC" trio of warriors will go a long way to deciding who emerges victorious in Paris tomorrow.