Span­ish tur­moil adds ex­tra spice to Ibe­rian derby

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD CUP -

SOCHI, Rus­sia: With Spain un­beaten in 20 games and Por­tu­gal hav­ing lost one com­pet­i­tive match since Septem­ber 2014, Fri­day’s clash in Sochi ap­peared to be a case of an ir­re­sistible force meet­ing an im­mov­able ob­ject – at least un­til Wed­nes­day.

Then, in a dras­tic and sen­sa­tional move, Spain fired coach Julen Lopetegui and re­placed him with Fer­nando Hierro, whose only pre­vi­ous se­nior coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was at sec­ond-tier Span­ish club Oviedo.

Lopetegui, who only last month ex­tended his con­tract as Spain coach, agreed Tues­day to take over at Real Madrid next sea­son – but the Span­ish fed­er­a­tion (RFEF) only found out five min­utes be­fore the official an­nounce­ment and were fu­ri­ous.

The con­trast with Por­tu­gal and the man­ner in which their coach Fer­nando San­tos agreed to re­new his con­tract af­ter win­ning Euro 2016 two years ago could not have been greater.

“We sat down, had a coffee and eas­ily reached an agree­ment,” he said at the time.

The neigh­borly ri­valry and the in­trigu­ing prospect of a duel be­tween Real Madrid team­mates Ser­gio Ramos of Spain and Por­tu­gal’s Cris­tiano Ron­aldo meant the Group B match was al­ways go­ing to be one of the high­lights of the open­ing round.

The Span­ish tur­moil has added even more spice to the fix­ture and it re­mains to be seen how much the Spa­niards will be af­fected, es­pe­cially af­ter me­dia re­ports that the squad was split over whether Lopetegui should re­main or not.

Some teams can be gal­va­nized by such episodes, how­ever, and Ramos quickly is­sued a war cry on Twit­ter.

“We are the na­tional team, we rep­re­sent a badge, col­ors, a fan base and a coun­try,” he said. “Our re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment is with you as well as for you. Yes­ter­day, to­day and to­mor­row to­gether.”

Spain had cer­tainly re­dis­cov­ered their touch un­der Lopetegui, us­ing re­lent­less pos­ses­sion to wear down op­po­nents, as shown by their un­beaten run since he took the reins.

Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Por­tu­gal have lost only once in 24 com­pet­i­tive matches since San­tos ar­rived in Septem­ber 2014 al­though, de­spite the pres­ence of Ron­aldo and play­ers such as Bernardo Silva, they tend to be dour and prag­matic.

Spain have dom­i­nated matches be­tween the pair, win­ning 16 of their 35 meet­ings with only six wins for Por­tu­gal. Four of those have been at ma­jor tour­na­ments with Spain win­ning the last two – at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

With Morocco and Iran mak­ing up the group, both Ibe­rian teams could be for­given for be­ing happy with a draw when they clash Fri­day but San­tos has other ideas.

“I am not sign­ing off on any­thing other than a win,” he said. “We’ve come here to win ev­ery game that we play.” –

Lopetegui’s re­place­ment, Fer­nando Hierro, at­tends a train­ing ses­sion on the eve of Spain’s open­ing match against Por­tu­gal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.