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Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Spain on the drift for World Cup after Lopetegui is sacked

New Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui
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Spain's preparations for the World Cup have been thrown into disarray after the Spanish Football Federation sacked manager Julen Lopetegui the day before the start of the tournament.

Fernando Hierro, the SFF's sporting director, has stepped up to take charge of the team for the duration of the World Cup and will select the team for their crucial Group B match against Portugal in Sochi on Friday.

Punters have taken a dim view of developments, leading to a drift in Spain's price to win the World Cup from 6-1 to 7-1 and an easing of their odds to beat Portugal from 19-20 to 23-20.

The change was made less than 24 hours after Lopetegui had been announced as the new manager of Real Madrid, which caught SFF president Luis Rubiales off guard.

Rubiales was not made aware of Lopetegui's deal with Real Madrid until five minutes before it was announced by Los Blancos.

He said: "I admire Julen a lot, I respect him a lot, I think he is a top trainer and that makes it more difficult to make the decision."

The swiftness of Lopetegui's dismissal may have been influenced by the reportedly strained relationships between Real Madrid and Barcelona players - the La Liga giants have six and four stars respectively in the Spanish squad.

On the surface La Roja have maintained a united front and they go into the World Cup unbeaten in 20 matches but confidence in the team is eroding and Spain have shifting from 1-2 to 4-6 to win Group B. It was reported that senior players had asked the SFF to allow Lopetegui stay on for the tournament.

A weaker than anticipated Spanish challenge could benefit several of their World Cup rivals.

Portugal have shortened from 21-10 to 2-1 to win Group B and Morocco and Iran have been backed to reach the last 16, shortening from 4-1 to 10-3 and from 7-1 to 6-1.

Iran have been trimmed from 20-1 to 18-1 to beat Spain in Kazan and Morocco have been cut from 9-1 to 17-2 to topple the Iberians in Kaliningrad.

Further down the line a weakened Spain could benefit Argentina, their possible opponents in the quarter-finals.

Argentina lost 6-1 to Spain in Madrid less than three months ago but they have been nibbled at in response to the Spanish chaos - shortening from 10-1 to 9-1 with Sky Bet.

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The change was made less than 24 hours after Lopetegui had been announced as the new manager of Real Madrid
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