The inside story: Spain chief reveals why they sacked coach one day before the World Cup
Spain arrived at the World Cup as one of the favourites – now their campaign is in disarray following the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.
Lopetegui was unbeaten during his two-year reign, but that counted for nothing after it emerged he had negotiated behind his bosses backs to join Real Madrid after the World Cup.
Newly-appointed Spain chief Luis Rubiales said he had no option but to dismiss Loeptegui, despite the turmoil it caused, coming just 48 hours before their opening game against Portugal.
Spain skipper Sergio Ramos pleaded with Rubiales for Lopetegui to stay, but the decision was taken to axe the 51-year-old and put Fernando Hierro – formerly of Real and Bolton – in charge for the tournament.
As World Cup shocks go, Spain's sacking of Lopetegui is right up there with Roy Keane's infamous walk-out on Ireland in Japan in 2002 and France's mutinous implosion in South Africa in 2010.
After Spain's humiliating group stage exit as holders at the last World Cup and a last 16 defeat to Italy at Euro 2016, Lopetegui had restored their pride and status on the international stage.
Spain breezed through World Cup qualifying with nine wins and a draw, while Lopetegui's record of 14 victories and six draws, with 61 goals scored and 13 conceded, saw his squad arrive in Russia with the best record of any of the 24 nations over the past two years.
But Lopetegui's dealings with Real, behind the backs of his employers, served to plunge Spain's campaign into turmoil and cast a huge shadow over their chances of success in Russia.
National coaches agreeing to take jobs after major tournaments is nothing new, with Louis van Gaal having been announced as Manchester United's new boss before guiding Holland to the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.
But it was the underhand and perceived duplicitous manner of Lopetegui's dealings with Real, without the knowledge or consent of his employers, that saw him lose his job on the eve of the biggest tournament in world football.
Hierro, who has been promoted from his role as Spain's Sporting Director, now faces a huge task in lifting a squad rocked by their coach's sudden departure, one that was united under him and, as such, one of the favourites in Russia.
Ramos immediately sought to limit the damage caused by Lopetegui's sacking by tweeting a passionate rallying cry, accompanied by an image of the Spain crest.
“We are the selection, we represent a shield, some colors, a hobby, a country,” tweeted Ramos. “Responsibility and commitment are with you and for you. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, together.”
Tomorrow we will learn the impact of Lopetegui's shock dismissal on Spain's squad and whether the players can recover from the extraordinary decision to jettison him on the eve of the World Cup.
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