Spotlight on Lopetegui but World Cup is here...

Amol Gokhale
Thursday, 14 June 2018

“The coach, while he is RFEF employee cannot do things in this way. I found out with a phone call five minutes before the official announcement. We feel obliged to take this decision,” the head of the Spanish football federation (RFEF) Luis Rubiales told a news conference at the team base in Krasnodar.

MOSCOW: If the world of football wasn’t surprised enough by the news of Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui to take over the reins of Real Madrid after the World Cup, another shocking news came out of Spain camp.

Lopetegui was sacked two days before Spain’s opening match in the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Portugal in Sochi on Friday.

“The coach, while he is RFEF employee cannot do things in this way. I found out with a phone call five minutes before the official announcement. We feel obliged to take this decision,” the head of the Spanish football federation (RFEF) Luis Rubiales told a news conference at the team base in Krasnodar.

“We want to thank Julen for all he’s done and he’s a big reason behind us being in Russia, but we feel obliged to dispense with his services. There has to be a message to all RFEF employees and there are ways of behaving that you need to abide by,” he said.

Later in the day, Spain announced that former captain Fernando Hierro would take charge of the team during the World Cup.

In a matter of 24 hours the World Cup campaign of one of the title contenders ‘La Roja’ took an unexpected turn and suddenly the side looks in the doldrums, ahead of the tournament’s first big clash per say.

‘Iberia Derby’ against the current European champions certainly looks more balanced affair as the impact of Lopetegui sacking is going to take massive told on Spanish players.

FOOTBALL FEVER GRIPS RUSSIA
One can truly feel the World Cup is here when commuting in Moscow. The historic Luzhniki Stadium gears itself up for the big match and the month-long tournament even as the weather continues to have mood swings here in the capital city of Russia.

Amidst all this, the day has finally arrived when football’s biggest event will get underway in the presence of a stadium packed with fans and the delegates from all around the world.

DEFEND THE CROWN
After having not so ideal preparation in the run-up to the World Cup, the defending champions Germany landed in Russia on Tuesday in a bid to win back-to-back trophies.

Joachim Loew’s men as always start as the favourites to win the title, but as their midfielder, Toni Kroos said after the loss to Brazil in March friendly, they aren’t that best as they think or as they are being told.

If Kroos’ words have percolated the necessary message, then the world needs to be worried about the Gary Lineker statement quote: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

THE LAST CHANCE FOR GLORY
Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the game for past decade but both men are now over 30 and one might just feel that it is just about time to find the successor to their throne and Brazilian Neymar is the obvious crown prince.

Neymar, leading Brazil into the World Cup, has proved time and again why is a worthy successor to Messi and Ronaldo, he has given the Samba boys their swagger back as the will look to banish the dark memories of 2014 World Cup on home soil.

Then come the inventors of the game - the English.

Gareth Southgate led Three Lions will once again look to end their poor streak in the major tournament, while the young sizzle talent of Didier Deschamps will look to lead France to the glory, 20 years after their triumph on home soil.

THE DEBUTANTS
If anything that can grab the equal amount of spotlight as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that will make debut in the tournament, then it is the tiny nation Iceland. A country of 3.3 lacs are already on the verge of making history when they will take on last edition’s finalists Argentina on June 16 in Moscow.

On Tuesday, FIFA stressed that the VAR isn’t the experimentation but they are ready for it, warning the teams and players trying to deceive the officials that they are being watched and FIFA will do everything they can to protect the image of the game.

BACK TO LUZHNIKI
The Lopetegui saga has just turned the focus of the entire footballing world on Krasnodar, where the Spanish team has their base camp. Such has been the prominence of that news that the news of 2026 World Cup will be hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico has taken a back seat along with FIFA President Gianni Infantino declaring that he will run for the presidency again in 2019.

But come Thursday, the Spanish coach will be on the back of the mind as the action begins on the field. Moscow is ready, St Petersburg is ready, the whole Russia is ready to welcome the world.

Lenin watches on from the entrance of the Luzhniki Stadium.

A HISTORY IN MAKING
- The term ball-boy is most common in the football dictionary, as usually, he is the kid who carries the ball out along with the referee before the start of the match.
- On Thursday, when Argentine Nestor Pitana will lead the hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia out for the opening match of the 2018 FIFA world cup, history will be made.
- Angelina Makarova will walk out with the referees and will do the coin toss before the match begins.
- Angelina, a special child, has been doing swimming for past 11 years and has even won the different competitions for people with down syndrome.
- Meanwhile, Karina Batyreva and Sabina Gadreshina, both football players in a team near Kazan will be the ball crew for the World Cup opener.

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