Span­ish up­heaval at World Cup

Times Colonist - - Sports - JOSEPH WIL­SON

BARCELONA, Spain — Some peo­ple in Spain agree that na­tional team coach Julen Lopetegui had to go. Oth­ers be­lieve the chaos on the eve of the World Cup just made a bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

Lopetegui was fired Wed­nes­day, two days be­fore Spain’s open­ing match against Portugal, be­cause he ac­cepted a job Tues­day to coach Real Madrid next sea­son.

“It is clear to me that this was poorly han­dled and that the na­tional team will be harmed by it,” Spain fan Jordi Casares said. “Madrid put its in­ter­ests first, as did Lopetegui, and [Span­ish fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Luis] Ru­biales was left in a very tough spot. No­body thought about what was best for the na­tional team.”

Tele­vi­sion and ra­dio com­men­ta­tor Manolo Lama, sum­ming up the state of be­wil­der­ment caused by the de­ci­sion, said the team’s suc­cess will rely solely on the play­ers.

“Our World Cup is in the hands of [Ser­gio] Ramos, [An­dres] Ini­esta, [David] Silva, Diego Costa and com­pany,” Lama wrote on Twit­ter. “Only they can put out this fire. Now more than ever [we must] be with our play­ers.”

How­ever, former Spain great Xavi Her­nan­dez said the fed­er­a­tion did the right thing.

“I think Ru­biales acted cor­rectly and was look­ing out for the fed­er­a­tion, which should be above any sin­gle in­di­vid­ual,” Her­nan­dez told sports daily Marca. “It wasn’t an easy sit­u­a­tion but I think he did the right thing. The play­ers have seen things like this be­fore and I am sure they are go­ing to have a good World Cup.”

Spain left for the World Cup in Rus­sia free of dis­trac­tions and with high hopes of com­pet­ing for the ti­tle it won in 2010.

Af­ter all, Lopetegui had im­pressed by lead­ing the na­tional team to the top of its qual­i­fy­ing group and had kept it un­de­feated in 20 matches since tak­ing over from Vi­cente del Bosque in 2016.

But Madrid’s an­nounce­ment that Lopetegui would re­place Zine­dine Zi­dane at Real Madrid im­me­di­ately caused con­tro­versy around the Span­ish na­tional team. Ru­biales then an­nounced his de­ci­sion to part ways with Lopet­gui, say­ing the fed­er­a­tion was “com­pelled to act” be­cause of the betrayal.

Ser­gio Ramos was the first Spain player to speak up.

“We are the na­tional team. We rep­re­sent this em­blem, these colours, our fans, a coun­try,” the Spain cap­tain wrote on Twit­ter. “Our re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment is to you. Yes­ter­day, to­day and to­mor­row, to­gether.”

Ger­ard Pique, Ramos’ part­ner in Spain’s de­fence, dug deep into sports his­tory to en­cour­age his team­mates. He cited the ex­am­ple of the 1989 Univer­sity of Michi­gan bas­ket­ball team, whose coach Bill Frieder was fired for an­nounc­ing he would change schools the fol­low­ing sea­son just be­fore the NCAA tour­na­ment. Michi­gan went on to win the na­tional ti­tle.

Last month, Lopetegui agreed to a con­tract ex­ten­sion through 2020. But Real Madrid’s sur­prise state­ment on Tues­day that Lopetegui has signed a three-year deal to coach the three-time de­fend­ing Cham­pi­ons League cham­pi­ons changed things.

Ru­biales, who was elected as fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent last month, said he was forced to fire Lopetegui be­cause he had been left in the dark by his coach and by Madrid. Former Spain great Fer­nando Hierro was named coach a short time later.


Former star player Fer­nando Hierro is Spain’s new coach.

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