Julen Lopetegui sacked as Spain coach one day before 2018 World Cup

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The head of the Spanish Football Association has pointed the finger of blame at Real Madrid as the nation’s World Cup preparations descended into turmoil following the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.

Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales acted swiftly to remove Lopetegui – who it was announced on Tuesday will take over at Real Madrid from next season.

Real’s announcement said he would begin his new role following the World Cup, but Rubiales was unhappy to have only been made aware of the news five minutes before the Champions League winners made the news official.

On Wednesday, Spain delayed a press conference at the Krasnodar Stadium by well over an hour before Rubiales addressed the media.

“We have been forced to dispense with the national coach, we wish him the best of luck” he said.

“I don’t want to get into how Real Madrid should go about things. The Spanish team is the team of all Spain.

Luis Rubiales

“If it had been up to Julen it wouldn’t have happened in this way and I wouldn’t have found out five minutes beforehand.

“The negotiation occurred without the RFEF having any information. (We were told) just five minutes before the press release. We have a way of behaving that needs to be adhered to.

“Obviously there was some sort of problem with communication but we can’t be expected to find out about something like this five minutes (before the announcement) and not take the necessary decisions.”

Rubiales would not be drawn on who would succeed Lopetegui – who did not lose any of his 20 games as national manager – but seemed to suggest a new man could be in place as early as later on Wednesday.

“I don’t want to get into names but we’ll make an announcement shortly,” he added.

“As of this afternoon, with the new coach and his staff, we’ll move forward. I feel very close to the players and to Julen.

“I have spoken to them and I can assure you that the players and the the new coaching staff will do everything possible to lead the team as far as possible, but it’s a complicated situation.”

Spain Under-21 manager Albert Celades, who is part of the coaching staff with the senior squad in Russia, and Spain’s director of football Fernando Hierro are two of the possible replacements as head coach heading into the World Cup.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Mohamed Salah's fitness has everyone talking ahead of Egypt v Uruguay World Cup opener

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Mohamed Salah is working hard behind the scenes.

Egypt and Uruguay clash in their Group A opener at the multi-purpose Ekaterinburg Arena in Yekaterinburg on Friday lunchtime (16:00 UAE time).

The Pharaohs are contesting their first World Cup since 1990 and will feel a wealth of support, as well as expectation, from their passionate Arab fanbase.

For Uruguay, who are of course two-time winners of football’s biggest trophy (1930 and 1950), the South American nation will be optimistic about going one further than their last-16 showing four years ago.

Here, we analyse the key talking points ahead of their clash in a competitive group also featuring hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Will Mohamed Salah feature?

This is the golden question no one quite knows the answer to yet, perhaps even those inside the Egypt camp.

The Liverpool star has been put through his paces by the team’s physio team at their Akhmat Arena stadium base in Grozny and has responded very well to treatment for the shoulder injury he sustained in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

However, he did take some part in Wednesday’s training session, for the most part, he has been training alone.

It remains to be seen whether Egypt will risk fielding their best player when not fully fit.

The challenge of facing Uruguay is arguably the toughest within Group A and Egypt may feel Salah would benefit from more rest and recovery in order to be firing for their match on June 19 against Russia.

That may be a wise call and it is perhaps a bonus for Egypt, in the meantime, considering they have been able to plan as if the 25-year-old would not be available for the opener for over a month.

Despite a disappointing season with Stoke City, new Huddersfield Town recruit Ramadan Sobhi should step into Salah’s boots on the right-flank.

Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah (L) attends a training session at the Akhmat Arena stadium in Grozny on June 12, 2018, ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Work in progress: Mohamed Salah has been training alone.

The Luis Suarez factor

Simply put, if the Barcelona star fires at the top of the pitch – Uruguay win the match.

Alongside Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani, the experienced duo have formed a clinical and telepathic understanding. The two combined brilliantly as Suarez scored during last Thursday night’s 3-0 World Cup warm-up friendly victory over Uzbekistan.

At 31, the former Kop idol loves proving his doubters wrong and 34 goals last term for the Blaugrana was evidence his powers haven’t waned significantly.

Suarez, a veteran of 98 caps and 51 goals for his country, will want to cash in on what will likely be his final World Cup.

Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez takes part in a training session of Uruguay's national football team ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup at the Sport Centre Borsky, in Nizhny Novgorod, on June 12, 2018. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Main threat: Luis Suarez.

Is this match-up a clash of one and two in Group A?

Both of these teams are widely tipped to progress to the second round of the tournament, with Uruguay the favourites to top proceedings and Egypt to clinch second spot.

Hector Cuper’s side will feel as though matches to come against Russia and Arab rivals Saudi Arabia are more winnable, especially if Salah is back for then, so they could in theory set their stall out for a draw on Friday.

For Le Celeste, they will be confident of overpowering Egypt and laying one hand on top having carried good momentum from a fruitful South American qualifying campaign which saw them pip Argentina into second place.

Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez (C) walks past his teammates as they take part in a training session of Uruguay national football team ahead of the Russia 2018 World Cup at the Sport Centre Borsky, in Nizhny Novgorod on June 11, 2018. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Uruguay are capable of causing an upset or two.

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Julen Lopetegui could be sacked as Spain boss 24 hours before start of World Cup

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It is being claimed that Julen Lopetegui could sensationally be sacked by Spain on the eve of the 2018 World Cup – with Tuesday’s announcement of him agreeing to take over as Real Madrid coach believed to be the underlying reason.

The Spanish FA (RFEF) and in particular the federation’s new president, Luis Rubiales, are thought to be furious with the way that Lopetegui has handled this situation.

Multiple reports on Tuesday night claimed Rubiales felt ‘betrayed’ by Lopetegui’s decision and was angered to only find out five minutes before Madrid announced the hire.

The Independent claims that Rubiales and the RFEF are set to act, with an emergency press conference being hastily arranged for Wednesday.

Rubiales flew back from the FIFA congress in Moscow late on Tuesday night to Krasnodar, where the Spanish squad are based.

Spain’s sporting director Fernando Hierro and Spanish Under-21 coach Albert Celades are reportedly in the frame to step into Lopetegui’s shoes to lead La Roja in Russia if the news is confirmed.

More to follow…

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