Julen Lopetegui has been fired as Spanish coach on the eve of the World Cup.
Julen Lopetegui has been fired as Spanish coach on the eve of the World Cup.

Spain sacks its coach hours before World Cup

SPAIN has dramatically sacked coach Julen Lopetegui  - just two days before the team's opening game against Portugal at the World Cup.

In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, Real Madrid named Lopetegui as its next manager - to start work after the tournament in Russia.

The timing of the announcement sparked outrage among the federation and Spanish fans.

At a severely delayed press conference at Spain's World Cup base in Krasnodar, Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales said he felt Lopetegui's decision to join Madrid so close to the start of the tournament "obliged" him to take drastic action.

"I am here to say that we feel obliged to sack the national team manager," Rubiales said.

Lopetegui had signed a contract extension until 2020 just last month and Luis Rubiales was reportedly angry at being informed of the coach's decision to join Real minutes before the European champions made the announcement public.

"I have spoken with the players and I can guarantee that the new technical team will do everything they can. We are left in a very difficult situation," Rubiales said.

Later, federation sporting director and former Real Madrid captain Fernando Hierro was named as Spain's World Cup coach, with the team due to face European champion Portugal in Sochi on Friday.

"Fernando Hierro will assume coaching responsibilities at the World Cup in Russia," the Spanish football federation announced.

The 50-year-old Hierro's only real coaching experience came when he was in charge of second division Spanish outfit Oviedo for one season.

Julen Lopetegui gives a thumb-up during a training session in Krasnodar.
Julen Lopetegui gives a thumb-up during a training session in Krasnodar.

Lopetegui was appointed Spain coach in July 2016 and never tasted defeat in the job, leading the team through 20 unbeaten games ahead of the World Cup.

La Roja were among the favourites to lift the trophy in Russia but the astonishing developments of the past two days could have a devastating effect on their chances.

There are fears Lopetegui's appointment could open up old divisions between the Real Madrid and Barcelona factions in the Spain squad.

For the first time since 2006, there are more players from Madrid in a Spanish squad for a major tournament, with a six-strong Real contingent and just Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets from Barca.

However, according to reports in the Spanish media, the players tried to intervene at the last minute to prevent Rubiales sacking Lopetegui.

Lopetegui had a short playing career at both Madrid and Barcelona as a reserve goalkeeper.

However, his coaching career had been far from distinguished before being handed the role as Spain coach after a last-16 exit at Euro 2016 brought Vicente del Bosque's eight-year reign to an end.

After short spells at Rayo Vallecano and with Madrid's youth team Real Madrid Castilla, Lopetegui enjoyed a successful time with Spain's under-19s and under-21s.

He then spent 18 months in charge of Porto but was sacked after exiting the Champions League at the group stage in his second season.