Spain sack Lopetegui on eve of tourney

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT - Gabriel Ru­bio Giron

SPAIN dra­mat­i­cally sacked coach Julen Lopetegui on Wed­nes­day and ap­pointed fed­er­a­tion sport­ing di­rec­tor Fer­nando Hierro – just two days be­fore the team’s open­ing game at the World Cup.

In a sur­prise an­nounce­ment on Tues­day, Real Madrid ap­pointed Lopetegui as Zine­dine Zi­dane’s suc­ces­sor to take over af­ter the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia, spark­ing out­rage among the fed­er­a­tion and Span­ish fans at the tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment.

At a de­layed press con­fer­ence at Spain’s World Cup base in Krasnodar, Span­ish foot­ball fed­er­a­tion (RFEF) chief Luis Ru­biales ex­pressed dis­may at the tim­ing of events that threaten to de­rail Spain’s chances.

“The na­tional team is the team for all Spaniards and there are some de­ci­sions we feel obliged to take to pro­tect some val­ues,” said Ru­biales.

“Ne­go­ti­at­ing is le­git­i­mate but it took place with­out the RFEF be­ing in­formed un­til five min­utes be­fore a press state­ment was re­leased. There has to be a mes­sage for all workers in the fed­er­a­tion that there is a right way to do things.”

Later on Wed­nes­day, Spain named Hierro as the coach for the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia.

“Hierro will as­sume coach­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at the­World Cup in Rus­sia,” the Span­ish foot­ball fed­er­a­tion an­nounced.

The 50-year-old Hierro’s only real coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence came when he was in charge of sec­ond-di­vi­sion Span­ish out­fit Oviedo for one sea­son.

Lopetegui had signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion un­til 2020 just last month and never tasted de­feat in his 20 games in charge as Spain boss.

Spain are due to face Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Portugal in Sochi on Fri­day be­fore tak­ing on Iran and Morocco in Group B.

There were fears Lopetegui’s ap­point­ment by the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons could open up old di­vi­sions be­tween the Real Madrid and Barcelona fac­tions in the Spain squad.

For the first time since 2006, there are more play­ers from Madrid in a Span­ish squad for a ma­jor tour­na­ment, with a sixstrong Real con­tin­gent and just Ger­ard Pique, Jordi Alba and Ser­gio Bus­quets from Barca.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to re­ports in the Span­ish me­dia, the play­ers tried to in­ter­vene at the last minute to pre­vent Ru­biales sack­ing Lopetegui.

“I have spo­ken with the play­ers and what I can guar­an­tee is that the play­ers will do ev­ery­thing in their power, along with the new technical team to take the team as far as pos­si­ble,” said Ru­biales.

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