Spain sack manager and Ronaldo shines
Last updated: June 19, 2018 by Leon Marshal
Spanish preparations for their clash against Portugal were dealt a hammer blow when the Royal Spanish Football Federation dismissed Spanish head coach Julen Lopetegui. On the field, Cristiano Ronaldo strengthened his G.O.A.T claims with a stunning hat-trick to earn a draw for Portugal.
Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui was shown the door just two days before the start of the most prestigious football tournament in the world. The shock announcement came just a few hours after Real Madrid revealed that Lopetegui would become their new manager after the World Cup.
Zinedine Zidane stepped down after a successful three-year spell at the Bernabeu since he took over from Rafa Benitez. He had a winning rate of 69.8% from the 149 games he was in charge, he won 104 matches and an impressive total of nine trophies during his spell including three consecutive Champions League trophies.
Zidane’s shock departure left Real Madrid with a vacancy to fill and the club’s hierarchy deemed Spanish manager Lopetegui the ideal candidate.
Julen led Spain to 14 wins out of 20 matches and drawing the other six since taking over as the national boss. He has an unbeaten record and was responsible for modifying and improving Spain’s playing style, combining both the passing and possession game with a lot of attacking football.
Real Madrid’s announcement of appointing Julen Lopetegui was not taken well by the Spanish football authorities. The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), through their president Luis Rubiales, lamented on their lack of involvement in the critical matter, stating that they were only informed five minutes before the announcement. He said the terminating of Julen’s contract was a difficult decision to make, especially with the close and personal relationship he shared with Lopetegui, also citing all the good work the manager had done with the team in preparation for the tournament.
Spain for their part have appointed Fernando Hierro to take charge of their World Cup campaign.
Hierro spent 14 years at Real Madrid as a player winning five La Liga titles and three Champions League trophies. He also represented the Spanish national team in four World Cups and two European Championships.
The World Cup could well prove a steep learning curve for the newcomer. Hierro only has two years’ experience in coaching, starting his managerial career with Oviedo in 2016. He was also Real Madrid assistant coach from 2014 – 2016 and it will be interesting to see how the 51-year-old inexperienced coach handles the expectations of a nation, especially after Spain’s performance at the last World Cup. In that tournament, Spain failed to progress past the group stage.
Ronaldo makes Spain pay for off-field woes
The most eagerly awaited match in Russia so far was the battle between the reigning European Champions Portugal and 2010 World Cup winners Spain.
The game had so much hype around it mainly because it was the first clash between two big international giants but the game had added spice due to the Spanish managerial change and also the fact that Portuguese superstar Ronaldo had just received a suspended jail term and a £16.4m fine due to alleged tax evasion by Spanish authorities.
And of course, after the game, it was Cristiano Ronaldo’s name that was on everyone’s lips. Producing one of the best performances in a World Cup tournament in recent times, the Ballon d’Or holder scored a superb hat-trick.
The most remarkable aspect of the match was the team spirit displayed, both teams coming back from conceding goals to level the game; it was the World Cup at its finest, a true slugfest between two talented and well-backed sides.
The match started with Diego Costa proving he had lost none of his talents as a world-class striker by cancelling out Ronaldo’s fourth-minute penalty in the 24th minute. He twisted and turned whilst pressured by five defenders and hit a well-placed shot that delicately found the far left corner.
One of the biggest shocks of the game was the form of Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. The 27-year-old struggled in this match and it was his uncharacteristic mistake just before the break that allowed Portugal to take the lead. A bread-and-butter shot from Ronaldo was inexplicably fumbled by the Manchester United player and he could only watch in horror as it found the net. Costa scored his second and Spain’s equaliser in the 54th minute, tapping in from close-range from a Sergio Busquets’ knockdown.
Spain probably thought the game was in the bag when just two minutes later debutant Nacho hit a thunderous volley to announce his first appearance in the World Cup in style.
But it was Ronaldo who would have the last word. The scene was set for a hero and Ronaldo didn’t disappoint. When Portugal was awarded a free-kick near to the edge of “the D”, there was only ever going to be one person to take it!
The 33-year-old took his time, soaked up the pressure and atmosphere of the occasion and then dispatched a spectacular free-kick that rose over the wall before dipping to find the top corner. De Gea could only look on in horror as the shot flew past him. It was a fitting end to a remarkable game, Portugal 3, Spain 3.