Ramos gives thumbs up to Hierro as Spain look to move on from Lopetegui’s exit

The National - News - - SPORT WORLD CUP 2018 -

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

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