Soccer

Soccer

Two days before the World Cup, Spain fires its coach

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 5, 2018 Spain's coach Julen Lopetegui speaks with Spanish Footbal Federation (RFEF) president Luis Manuel Rubiales (R) as they pose for the official squad photo before a training session at Las Rozas de Madrid sports city. Spain sacked coach Lopetegui just two days before the team's opening game against Portugal at the World Cup, Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales confirmed on June 13, 2018. In a surprise announcement on June 12, Real Madrid named Lopetegui as their next manager to start work after the tournament in Russia, sparking outrage among the federation and Spanish fans at the timing of the announcement. / AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANOJAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images
Julen Lopetegui (left) and Spanish Footbal Federation president Luis Manuel Rubiales.

With only two days to go before Spain’s opening match at the World Cup, Julen Lopetegui was fired as national team coach because he accepted a job to lead Real Madrid next season.

Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales, who made the announcement on Wednesday in Krasnodar, said Fernando Hierro would replace Lopetegui as coach for Spain’s match against Portugal in Sochi on Friday.

The 50-year-old Hierro, a former national team player and Real Madrid captain, will be taking on his first major coaching job. He had been acting as the federation’s sports director and was already in Russia with the national team.

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Rubiales said firing Lopetegui wasn’t the best solution but it was needed after the federation was caught by surprise by Real Madrid’s announcement.

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‘‘The federation cannot be left out of a negotiation by one of its workers and be informed five minutes before the press release,’’ Rubiales said. ‘‘We have been compelled to act.’’

Rubiales, who took over as president last month, said Lopetegui betrayed the federation’s values and it was the only decision he could make.

‘‘It’s a difficult situation, but we are not the ones who determined the action that had to be taken. The federation has its values and it has to maintain them,’’ Rubiales said. ‘‘It may look like a weakness now, but with time this will make us stronger.’’

Lopetegui did not attend the news conference but was expected to talk to the media later.

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‘‘We have to work on a series of decisions that come just two days before the opener,’’ Rubiales said. ‘‘There’s a lot to do.’’

After Madrid’s announcement, critics immediately began questioning some of the coach’s decisions with the national team, including his choice to leave some Barcelona players such as Sergi Roberto out of the World Cup squad. There were also questions about how Lopetegui would be able to fully focus on the national team while also having to discuss off-season signings for his new club.

Related: Team-by-team look at the World Cup

There are six Madrid players on Spain’s team for the World Cup.

Lopetegui’s name had not been mentioned by Spanish media among the probable candidates for the Madrid job, which opened up after Zinedine Zidane unexpectedly quit. Last month, Lopetegui agreed to extend his contract with the national team through 2020.

‘‘I admire and respect Lopetegui a lot. He is a top coach, and that made it harder to make this decision,’’ Rubiales said. ‘‘Winning is important, but above that, we need to know how things have to be handled.’’

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The 51-year-old Lopetegui took over from Vicente del Bosque after the 2016 European Championship. He was credited with reviving a team that was on the decline after winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.