Ramos gives thumbs up to Hierro as Spain look to move on from Lopetegui’s exit
Sergio Ramos has given new Spain head coach Fernando Hierro a resounding vote of confidence ahead of their World Cup opener against Portugal in Sochi today.
The surprise sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup after he revealed that he was set to take over at Real Madrid when the tournament was over sent shockwaves through the Spanish camp on Wednesday.
The Spanish players were reportedly said to be against the move to sack Lopetegui and replace him with Hierro, who had been serving as the side’s sporting director at the football association, but there were no signs of dissent at yesterday’s media conference.
“There are few people more qualified than Fernando Hierro to cover for Lopetegui’s departure,” Spain’s captain Ramos told reporters.
“He was an outstanding player that we’ve all admired for a long time and he knows us full well.”
“He is one of the most perfect candidates to cover this post and I hope that this will be a squad that has the same dreams and ambitions as before and that it will not affect us in any way.”
The Real Madrid defender admitted that Lopetegui’s removal had disturbed the players, but that the players were keen to put it behind them as the tournament begins.
“These were not pleasant times. Julen Lopetegui was part of this effort, he helped us qualify, but leaving aside any personal issues, the Spanish side is more important and the sooner we focus on the World Cup, the better for all,” he said.
Lopetegui was due to be unveiled as Zinedine Zidane’s replacement as Real Madrid manager yesterday evening at a news conference.
Facing his Real teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos accepts the Spaniards have a tough task against European champions Portugal but he said he was delighted to be captain under such challeng ing circumstances, as they bid to replicate the country’s 2010 tournament victory.
“I am carrying my country, my team and there are very few things that are as big as this. I think football teaches us lessons when we are in difficult situations, and I think this is an opportunity for us to grow,” he said.
“We need to focus on the same shared goal. Nothing is going to change in that regard.”
Despite the drama of the past 48 hours, Portugal coach Fernando Santos is convinced that Spain will still go far at the World Cup.
“They will have a great coach in charge in Fernando Hierro. I am not sure exactly what is going to happen, what team he will send out, but I am sure they will have a great tournament,” said Santos at the Fisht Olympic Stadium yesterday.
However, Santos is also clear in his belief that Portugal will not be caught out by any surprise Spanish tactics following the last-minute upheaval.
He said: “Spain have had the same style for a decade now so I don’t think we will have any surprises, what matters is that the teams just get on with it now.”
European champions Portugal have not beaten Spain since 2004 at a major tournament, and Santos is ready for another tough night.
“Spain are extraordinary opponents,” he added. “I don’t think they will change overnight. But we are focused on our strengths. We will take into account those of Spain, and also their weaknesses, because there are no perfect teams.”
Football teaches us lessons when we are in difficult situations and I think this is an opportunity for us to grow SERGIO RAMOS Spain captain