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Spain World Cup hopes in disarray as Madrid mess costs Lopetegui his job

8:00 AM EDT 6/13/18
Julen Lopetegui Spain 2018
The Basque coach was removed on Wednesday against the players' wishes and leaves La Roja in turmoil ahead of their opener against Portugal on Friday

Spain's World Cup preparations are in chaos. The president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Luis Rubiales, announced on Wednesday that coach Julen Lopetegui has been sacked, just two days before La Roja's Russia 2018 debut.

On Tuesday, Real Madrid had announced that Lopetegui will be their new coach after the conclusion of the World Cup, a move which caught the RFEF by surprise as the team trained in Krasnodar for Friday's game against Portugal.

A press conference was called for Wednesday morning at 9:30 BST (4:30 ET) and then put back by an hour as speculation mounted that Spain could remove Lopetegui from his duties ahead of the tournament.

The delay looked like it had saved the coach as reports emerged claiming Spain's players had been attempting to convince Rubiales to put pride to one side and stick with the Basque boss.

But, when Rubiales finally turned up to face the media, the bombshell broke . "The Spanish Federation has decided to dispense with the services of Julen Lopetegui after the way he has acted," he said. Two days before the game against Portugal, Spain's coach had been sacked.

“Lopetegui has been a great coach, but we can’t accept this behaviour," he added. "This has been done without our knowledge. The Federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees and find out just five minutes before a public announcement.”

That was in reference to Lopetegui telling Rubiales on Tuesday that he was joining Real Madrid straight after the tournament, giving the RFEF no time to react as a press release from Los Blancos was posted on their official site and on social media minutes later.

An hour after that, the RFEF then posted their own reaction as they announced that Real would have to pay the €2 million release clause for Lopetegui, who had just signed a new long-term contract with La Roja on May 22 .

Rubiales revealed things may have been different had he known earlier on about negotiations between Real and Lopetegui, who departs with 14 wins and six draws in his 20 games as Spain coach. But he kept on stressing that he had been told just five minutes before the announcement and clearly saw that as a major betrayal from his coach.

The national team's sporting director, and former Spain captain, Fernando Hierro now takes over on an interim basis for the World Cup and he is likely to be assisted by Under-21 boss Albert Celades out in Russia.

And, while there will be much anger at the behaviour of Madrid and also Lopetegui, the decision to remove the coach after a two-year process despite the fact he was supported by the players surely leaves Spain much worse off than they would have been had he stayed.

One of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain's World Cup hopes are now in disarray and, although Rubiales claimed the decision "will make us stronger", it is hard to see how La Roja can recover from such a blow just two days before their bow at Russia 2018.