Spain ready to leave coach­ing woes be­hind as opener looms

Takes on Por­tu­gal to­day in its World Cup opener at Sochi

The Day - - LOCAL SPORTS - By TALES AZZONI AP Sports Writer

Sochi, Rus­sia — Spain can't wait to get the ball rolling and put its coach­ing woes in the past.

And noth­ing bet­ter than a win against Eu­ro­pean cham­pion Por­tu­gal in its World Cup opener to start mov­ing for­ward af­ter one of the most chaotic days in the na­tional team's his­tory.

Spain will have new coach Fernando Hierro on the bench to­day af­ter Julen Lopetegui, who led the team on a 20-match un­beaten cam­paign since tak­ing over the squad in 2016, was fired Wednesday for ac­cept­ing the Real Madrid coach­ing job with­out in­form­ing the soc­cer fed­er­a­tion in ad­vance.

"We need to turn the page as soon as pos­si­ble," Spain cap­tain Ser­gio Ramos said Thursday. "Spain has to be above any­body. The World Cup starts to­mor­row (for us) and we have a great game to play against the Eu­ro­pean cham­pion. Hope­fully we will start on the right foot."

One of the fa­vorites

Spain ar­rived as one of the ti­tle fa­vorites thanks to its good per­for­mances un­der Lopetegui, but La Roja was rocked when newly elected fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Luis Ru­biales fired him for not prop­erly han­dling the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Madrid. Hierro, a for­mer na­tional team player and Real Madrid cap­tain who had been act­ing as Spain's sports di­rec­tor, was hastily picked for the job de­spite not hav­ing any sig­nif­i­cant coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

"Very few things will change. There wasn't a lot of time," said Hierro, who had pre­vi­ously coached sec­ond-di­vi­sion club Real Oviedo and was an as­sis­tant to Carlo Ancelotti af­ter Zine­dine Zi­dane left the post in 2014. "We are well pre­pared. We have been prac­tic­ing in­tensely these past weeks and we have con­fi­dence in these play­ers and the ideal that has been in place for the last two years."

Lopetegui, who was of­fi­cially in­tro­duced by Real Madrid back in Spain not long af­ter Spain's news con­fer­ence in Sochi, had re­vamped Spain's na­tional team af­ter tak­ing over from Vi­cente del Bosque fol­low­ing the 2016 Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

Ramos, one of the six Madrid play­ers with the na­tional team, said the squad didn't want to talk about the coach­ing change any­more and would re­main fo­cused on play­ing soc­cer.

"The de­sire of this group to do well hasn't changed," he said.

Ramos, who will cap­tain Spain in a World Cup for the first time, dis­missed re­ports that play­ers tried to per­suade the fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent to change his de­ci­sion on Lopetegui.

"This is a de­ci­sion that doesn't be­long to us. It's taken by peo­ple who have more power than the play­ers," he said. "We can only do some­thing on the field."

Ramos said Lopetegui "would re­main a part of what­ever hap­pens to Spain in this World Cup."

At the end of the news con­fer­ence at Fisht Sta­dium, the out­spo­ken de­fender said he wanted to leave with a smile on his face.

"This looks like a funeral," he said. "To­mor­row the World Cup starts for us."

MANU FER­NAN­DEZ/AP PHOTO

Spain’s coach Fernando Hierro takes part dur­ing train­ing for the group B match be­tween Por­tu­gal and Spain at the World Cup on Friday at Sochi, Rus­sia.

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