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Spain fires coach on eve of World Cup
[MOSCOW] Spain, one of the favorites to win the World Cup, found itself in disarray just two days before its first game of the competition after the country's soccer federation fired Coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday, despite fervent protests from his players.
Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish soccer federation, the RFEF, said at a news conference that he had no choice but to remove Lopetegui, 51, after it emerged a day earlier that he would replace Zinedine Zidane as coach of Real Madrid after the World Cup.
Fernando Hierro, the national team's technical director, will replace Lopetegui for the duration of the tournament.
The Spanish federation agreed a few weeks ago to extend Lopetegui's contract until 2020, but Rubiales said that he was forced to renege because the coach had negotiated his move — not unusual in itself — without informing his employer.
"The negotiation occurred without the federation having any information," Rubiales said from the team's training facility in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, suggesting he had been informed of the news just five minutes before the news was made public. "We have a way of behaving that needs to be adhered to."
Reports in Spain suggested that Lopetegui's agent, Carlos Bucero, had reached an agreement with Real Madrid President Florentino Perez late last week. Several members of the Spanish squad were made aware of the appointment, news reports said, forcing Lopetegui and Real to make an announcement Tuesday.
The move caught Rubiales by surprise and he immediately flew from Moscow — where he was expected to cast Spain's vote to determine who would host the 2026 World Cup — to Krasnodar to meet with Lopetegui and Hierro. In his absence, Spain did not cast a vote.
On Wednesday morning, a delegation of senior players from the Spanish squad, including Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, met with Rubiales.
The players urged Rubiales to "swallow his pride" and let Lopetegui remain as coach to avoid disrupting the team's preparations, according to reports.
Rubiales, however, was unmoved. At noon in Krasnodar, he appeared in front of journalists and announced that Lopetegui had been dismissed. He insisted that he did not feel "betrayed" by the coach, but said the talks had not been handled professionally.