One of the favourites to hoist the World Cup is now without a manager on the eve of the tournament.
Spain made the stunning decision to sack Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday morning, just one day after it was announced he would take over at Real Madrid following this summer's competition in Russia.
Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales held a news conference at the team's training base in Krasnodar, Russia, claiming the secretive nature of Lopetegui's agreement with Madrid was behind his decision to fire the 51-year-old tactician.
"We have been obliged to fire the national coach," Rubiales said, as quoted by ESPN.
"We wish him the best, he has done an excellent job in getting us to the tournament. But the federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees, and find out just five minutes before a public announcement. If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us too, that is basic, as this is the team of all Spaniards. The national team is the most important we have, the World Cup is the biggest of all."
Spain, revitalised under Lopetegui after his appointment in 2016, opens its World Cup against fellow Group B heavyweight Portugal on Friday.
A few jaws hitting the floor in the media centre at Portugal’s training camp— Andy Brassell (@andybrassell) June 13, 2018
A few jaws hitting the floor in the media centre at Portugal’s training camp
— Andy Brassell (@andybrassell) June 13, 2018
Faced with obvious questions about the distraction such a move would create just hours ahead of the World Cup, Rubiales moved to quell those concerns, saying the Spanish federation "had to react" to Lopetegui's deal with Madrid.
"All this is a big blow, but we are training again this afternoon, will stick together and move forward," he said. "The players are very focused and they have told me they are fully committed, and will give 100 percent."
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