• Thursday, Jan 21, 2021
  • Last Update : 11:37 pm

Shellshocked Spain face Portugal in early World Cup treat

  • Published at 12:30 pm June 15th, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:26 pm June 15th, 2018
spain-team-1529043188278.jpg
Spain's Sergio Ramos and other players during training at Fisht Stadium, Sochi, Russia on Thursday Reuters

Spain and Portugal clash on Friday in an early highlight of the World Cup in Russia as the Spanish camp insist they are united despite this week's extraordinary sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui.

Egyptian fans, meanwhile, will hold their breath to see if prolific Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah really has recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered in the Champions League final as the Pharaohs take on Uruguay.

But after host nation Russia's rousing 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener, the highlight of the day will be Spain's clash with Cristiano Ronaldo's European champions in Sochi.

The Spanish team had been tipped as one of the favourites to win the trophy for a second time after a two-year unbeaten run under Lopetegui.


But Wednesday's snap decision by the Spanish Football Federation to dump Lopetegui, after he announced he would take over at Real Madrid post-tournament, has left the team reeling.

Former Real Madrid stalwart Fernando Hierro has been thrown into the deep end as head coach, with little coaching experience and huge pressure on his shoulders.


Captain Sergio Ramos and Hierro put on a united front on Thursday as they contemplated the opening Group B meeting against their neighbours and arch-rivals following two days of chaotic upheaval.

"There is nobody better than Fernando. He was a great player and has known us for a long time," said Ramos.

Real's appointment of Lopetegui could, the federation apparently feared, have opened up Spanish football's age-old faultline between the squad's Madrid and Barcelona-based players.

Ramos, who also skippers Real Madrid, insisted this week's events had not upset any relationships.

"There are no cracks. We are all individuals and we all think differently, but the collective idea is the same -- we are here to go for the World Cup," he said.

Almost 5,000 kilometres away, Lopetegui was being unveiled as the new Madrid coach.


The 51-year-old described the day he was sacked as "the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother".

Ronaldo and Portugal have enjoyed a calmer build-up but the 33-year-old reigning World Player of the Year knows that Russia is probably on his last chance to win a World Cup.

The Real Madrid superstar could play on for years yet, but it is difficult to imagine him leading Portugal to glory in Qatar in 2022.

A 19-year-old Ronaldo was playing the last time Portugal beat their Iberian rivals in a major tournament, winning 1-0 to eliminate Spain in the group stage at Euro 2004.


He has gone on to become his country's leading scorer with 81 international goals in 150 appearances.

Yet one doubt hangs over him: his form in a Portugal shirt has never matched his heroics for Manchester United and Real, and his World Cup scoring record so far is poor with just three goals in three tournaments.

Egypt coach Hector Cuper says Salah is "almost 100 percent certain" to start against Uruguay in the Group A match in Ekaterinburg, nearly three weeks since he left the field in Kiev clutching his shoulder in agony after being wrestled to the ground by Ramos.

Friday's other Group B fixture pits Iran, coached by former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz, against Morocco, guided by Frenchman Herve Renard.

Queiroz freely admits Iran are the underdogs of the group but has used a decision by Nike to halt supplies of boots to some of his players because of sanctions as a way to unite his squad.

"It has been a source of inspiration for us," Queiroz told Sky Sports.

He said Nike "should come out and apologise because this arrogant conduct against 23 boys is absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary".


52
Facebook 52
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail