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Spain sacks coach two days before their first match of Russia 2018

By Laurence Kelson

In a shock move, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has sacked head coach Julen Lopetegui two days out from from Spain’s opening World Cup match against Portugal.

Senior member of Spain’s coaching staff, Fernando Hierro, has been named as interim head coach for the remainder of the tournament.

The news comes a day after Lopetegui was named as head coach of Spanish footballing giants Real Madrid to replace Zinedine Zidane who quit the role last month.

The club confirmed that Lopetegui would start immediately after the World Cup.

But the coach’s move completely blind-sided his employers, the RFEF, which was only made aware of the news five minutes before it became public. Compounding the federation’s anger was that, only three weeks ago, Lopetegui had signed on to coach the Spanish national team until 2020.

The president of the RFEF, Luis Rubiales, made the announcement on Wednesday at a media conference in Krasnodar, Russia, where the Spanish team is based.

Rubiales was furious at Lopetegui’s decision to announce the news only days before La Roja’s first World Cup game. He said neither Real Madrid or Lopetegui made any formal negotiations with the RFEF.

“We’ve been obliged to dismiss Julen Lopetegui because there are decisions that have to be taken due certain behaviours and values,” Rubiales said.

The president said he consulted players and team officials before deciding to sack Lopetegui. Some in the playing group, such as captain Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), wanted the coach to stay on until the end of the tournament, but Rubiales said Lopetegui had to go, describing the situation as “unworkable”.

Three hours after Lopetegui was sacked Fernando Hierro was named as interim coach. Hierro was the national team’s sporting director, and the decision indicates that RFEF are searching for continuity within a crisis.

Despite the turmoil it is premature to say that Spain’s World Cup hopes are in tatters. They possess an experienced and talented squad, including some of the greats of Spanish football – and 2010 World Cup winners – Andres Iniesta (Barcelona/Vissle Kobe), Sergio Ramos and David Silva (Manchester City).

Spain kick-off their World Cup against Portugal on Saturday 16 June at 4am AEST.

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