Iberian war at Black Sea Resort

Amol Gokhale
Friday, 15 June 2018

Former World Champs Spain sans sacked coach Julen Lopetegui take on arch-rivals Portugal in Sochi to begin their campaign

MOSCOW: If you talk to the Spanish journalists in the Media centre, they know what question is coming.
Julen Lopetegui.

Most of them blame Real Madrid President Florentino Perez for putting the team into the doldrums.  Their version goes like, “After Zidane departed, Perez was looking for the coach and he called the Lopetegui, who said, ‘maybe, yes’ to his offer.

Now Perez, without understanding the importance of the World Cup made the announcement.”

“The President of the Spanish Football Federation, RFEF, Luis Rubiales, is a good and young guy, he is new, but he, of course, doesn’t like what happened, because it is ethically wrong,”

“Real Madrid and Lopetegui should have waited till the end of the World Cup,” they say.

The effect of his sacking will definitely have an effect on the team but they also believe that his replacement--Fernando Hierro--would be able to steer the team in this difficult period because he has been around the team for a while despite his obvious lack of coaching experience at the elite level.

BARCELONA SPINE
One cannot argue that Spain are one of the most talented team out their in the tournament and would still start favourites against Portugal.

One of the main reason for the technical superiority that Spain will have is because of the Barcelona spine that ‘La Roja’ has. Defender Gerard Pique always plays from the back and finds arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world, Sergio Busquets, then comes the master Andres Iniesta, who can always find the left-back Jordi Alba making runs down the flank.

RONALDO THREAT
Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos probably knows best how to stop his club-mate and his counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo.  In his bid to keep Portugal’s leading goal-scorer quiet, he has an able company of Pique, who has faced Ronaldo on numerous occasions in El Classico’s.

BEST POSSIBLE XI
The focus will be on what line-up coach Hierro fields at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi on Friday night. The experienced former captain of 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cup campaigns, Hierro is likely to change as little as possible and field a 4-3-3 formation with Diego Costa up front and David Silva and Isco flanking him.

The positions of Iniesta and Busquets are given in the side and Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara is likely to be the third midfielder for his sheer technical ability.

The aging heart of the defence in Pepe and Jos Fonte would certainly have to put on shift as they are surely going to have a tough time keeping up with fluid Spanish formation, where players keep changing their positions at will.

In the middle, Joao Mario, Joao Moutinho and William would be tasked to keep Spain building from the back and not allowing them to dictate the tempo as well as keep feeding good balls to their captain - Ronaldo, so that he can conjure up one moment of magic..

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