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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, June 14, 2018 1:00 am

Spain fires coach ahead of Cup

Federation upset it wasn't notified of Madrid hiring

TALES AZZONI | Associated Press

With only two days to go before Spain's opening match at the World Cup, Julen Lopetegui was fired as national team coach after accepting a job to lead Real Madrid next season.

Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales, who made the announcement Wednesday in Krasnodar, Russia, later said Fernando Hierro would replace Lopetegui as coach.

Hierro, 50, a former national team player and Real Madrid captain, will be taking on his first major coaching job. He had been acting as the federation's sports director and was already in Russia with the national team.

“I couldn't have said no, I wouldn't forgive myself,” Hierro said. “We still have a great opportunity in front of us. We have to remain positive and move forward.”

Rubiales said firing Lopetegui wasn't the best solution but it was needed after the federation was caught by surprise by Madrid's announcement.

“The federation cannot be left out of a negotiation by one of its workers and be informed five minutes before the press release,” Rubiales said.

Rubiales, who took over as president last month, said Lopetegui disrespected the federation's values.

“It's a difficult situation, but we are not the ones who determined the action that had to be taken. The federation has its values and it has to maintain them,” Rubiales said. “It may look like a weakness now, but with time this will make us stronger.”

There were reports that players tried to persuade Rubiales to change his mind and keep Lopetegui on the job.

“We are the national team. We represent this emblem, these colors, our fans, a country,” Spain captain Sergio Ramos wrote on Twitter. “Our responsibility and commitment is to you. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, together.”

Because he was fired, Madrid won't have to pay the $2.3 million of the termination clause on Lopetegui's contract. Rubiales said although the federation's financial situation was not ideal, money was “not the most important thing in a moment like this.”

Lopetegui did not attend the news conference but spoke with reporters as he started his trip back home.

“I am very sad, but we have a magnificent team and I hope we win the World Cup,” he said.