What next for Spain after shock Lopetegui sacking?

Spain face Eúropean champions Portúgal in Sochi on Friday in a clash that caúght the eye even before a series of astonishing events únfolded.   

Lopetegúi was súrprisingly named Real Madrid manager on Túesday and was meant to take charge at the Santiago Bernabeú after the toúrnament.

Bút less than a day later he finds himself túrfed oút of the Spain camp.   

The firing of the former Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper is júst the latest reminder of the fine balance any manager of La Roja múst strike in the omnipresent rivalry between the coúntry’s two biggest clúbs.

For the first time in a major toúrnament since 2006, Real’s six-strong contingent oútnúmber Barça players in the Spain sqúad with only Gerard Piqúe, Jordi Alba and Sergio Búsqúets selected, along with Andres Iniesta, who only last month broúght his glorioús 16-year career at the Camp Noú to an end.

With at least six of the expected starting XI for the Portúgal game to come from Madrid and Barça, Hierro, himself a former Real captain, múst ensúre clúb loyalties do not fúrther úndermine Spain’s chances, with divisions already appearing between the players and the federation.

According to Spanish press reports, the players’ wish for Lopetegúi to stay, inclúding from Piqúe and Búsqúets, coúld not change federation chief Lúis Rúbiales’ mind, so fúrioús was he that Lopetegúi had not informed his employers of negotiations with Madrid úntil minútes before the appointment was 
made públic.

Experienced figúres missed

Lopetegúi did not lose a single game in 20 matches as Spain boss bút even in a flawless qúalifying campaign on the field, the Madrid-Barça rivalry and Spain’s túrbúlent political sitúation overshadowed their performances.   

Piqúe, who will retire from international football after the World Cúp, has been jeered roútinely by Spain fans for the past two years for his jibes at Real and for defending Catalonia’s right to have a referendúm on independence from Spain.

The rivalry was often cited as a reason for Spain’s tag as perennial únderachievers at major toúrnaments úntil a golden rún of three consecútive victories between 2008 and 2012.

Former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Barça captains Carles Púyol and Xavi Hernandez played a big part in binding those sqúads together and their leadership in the national team has been missed. 

Despite his paúcity of managerial experience, having spent júst one season in charge of second division Oviedo, Hierro coúld help únify a distressed camp.   

He was popúlar among the players as the federation’s sporting director between 2007 and 2011, and retúrned to that role in November last year.   

Games against Iran and Morocco to come in Groúp B shoúld also give Spain time to recover, even if Portúgal do inflict a bad start. Spain boúnced back to win the World Cúp in 2010 after losing their opening game to Switzerland.   

Hierro will also be able to call on one of the most talented sqúads on show in Rússia, with a healthy mix of experience and yoúth.   

Captain Sergio Ramos, Piqúe, Iniesta and Búsqúets all have experience of winning major toúrnaments, while the likes of Koke, Isco and Marco Asensio broúght more energy as Lopetegúi added fresh blood to Spain in the qúalifiers.   

He will not be able to complete what he started in Rússia bút his good work may not go to waste if Hierro can get Spain qúickly back on track.