La Roja set to face the music

Captain Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta are crestfallen after Spain lose the penalty shoot-out to Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Captain Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta are crestfallen after Spain lose the penalty shoot-out to Russia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.PHOTO: REUTERS

Coach Hierro mum on future but Pique and other senior players may follow Iniesta out

MOSCOW • Spain coach Fernando Hierro said it was not the right time to contemplate his future after the 2010 champions crashed out to World Cup hosts Russia on penalties in the last 16 on Sunday.

He was drafted in as coach on the eve of the tournament, when Julen Lopetegui was sacked after it was announced he would take over the Real Madrid job next season.

"That doesn't worry me, I don't think it's something for right now," said Hierro, when asked about his future in the role. "Now we need to share this difficult moment... We're talking about a generation of extraordinary players and we haven't been performing at the level we expect in the World Cup."

Midfield maestro Andres Iniesta, 34, confirmed his international retirement immediately after the game and Gerard Pique, 31, is set to join him. Sergio Ramos and David Silva will be 34 by Euro 2020.

"It was not a good way to say goodbye, but football and life are like that," said Iniesta, after his 131st and last appearance for his country. "I am leaving with a nasty taste in the mouth."

Despite making an astounding 1,107 total passes, Spain could not break the 1-1 deadlock and their fate was sealed when Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev booted away Iago Aspas' spot kick to cap a 4-3 shoot-out win for the hosts.

While Akinfeev became a national hero, opposite number David de Gea drew criticism for failing to replicate his club form.

Including the penalty shoot-out against the hosts, the Manchester United stopper made just one save from 11 shots he faced in Russia. That is the lowest percentage (nine) of stops by a goalkeeper in a World Cup since 1966.

"What started badly, ended badly," wrote Spanish daily Marca. "All the problems began with the dismissal of Lopetegui and then continued with a team lacking in form and ideas."

Luis Rubiales, the head of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, was quick to make clear that he felt no remorse for sacking Lopetegui.

"Today there is pain, as we have been eliminated," he said. "But you can be calm when you know you have acted with responsibility, conviction and values."

He added that the federation was going to wait "a few weeks" before deciding on Hierro's position.

The coach rejected any suggestion La Roja would have fared better had the Spanish federation stuck with Lopetegui. "We had opportunities to win this match but we ended up in a penalty shoot-out which is basically a lottery, and we weren't lucky," Hierro said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2018, with the headline 'La Roja set to face the music'. Print Edition | Subscribe