Football: Hierro opts to adhere to the Lopetegui blueprint

Spain's new national coach Fernando Hierro gestures as Sergio Ramos (left) and Gerard Pique pay heed in the lead-up to the Portugal game.
Spain's new national coach Fernando Hierro gestures as Sergio Ramos (left) and Gerard Pique pay heed in the lead-up to the Portugal game.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KRASNODAR (Russia) • New Spain coach Fernando Hierro has admitted that there is no time "to change anything" ahead of their Group B clash against Portugal today.

The former Spain captain will lead La Roja out in Sochi after the shock sacking of Julen Lopetegui, with their football federation reacting to Lopetegui's failure to inform them he had agreed to join Real Madrid following the World Cup.

But Hierro will attempt to stick closely to the game plan that saw Lopetegui go 20 games unbeaten, winning 14 and drawing six.

"The key is to change as little as possible," Hierro told a news conference on Wednesday. "You can't change two years of work in two days.

"We've watched the videos for the next game and we need to use our brains, be coherent and, anyway, between now and Portugal there's not much room for change.

"I've been at all the training sessions, in the day-to-day we've been present and I can't change anything in these two days."

David de Gea is certain to start in goal today, while in defence, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos are fixtures, with the only doubt being whether the more attack-minded Alvaro Odriozola or the adaptable and reliable Nacho Fernandez is given the task of containing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Spain's last warm-up game, a 1-0 win at home against Tunisia last Saturday, left some doubts in midfield with Koke and Thiago Alcantara expected to battle it out for a place alongside Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Andres Iniesta and possibly Isco.

That started the debate over whether Lopetegui would pick Diego Costa as a central striker or use the pace and mobility of Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno against a solid, organised, but ageing Portugal defence.

 

Hierro's only previous coaching experience came at second division Oviedo, but he believes the players are ready to put the change behind them and focus on winning a second World Cup, starting against the European champions.

"They're great professionals who are mature and responsible. If I wasn't sure that we couldn't have a great tournament, I wouldn't be here," Hierro added. "Nobody can take the dream away from us."

Before departing from Spain's training base in Krasnodar for a flight to Madrid, Lopetegui told reporters: "I am very sad but we have a magnificent team and hopefully we'll win the World Cup."

Spain were among the favourites to lift the trophy but the astonishing developments could have a devastating effect on their chances.

"It completely surprised me, I don't know the background of the decision, but two days before the first World Cup game, it's amazing," said Germany coach Joachim Low. "There must certainly be unrest within the federation and the team."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2018, with the headline 'Hierro opts to adhere to the Lopetegui blueprint'. Print Edition | Subscribe