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What next for Spain after shock Lopetegui sacking?

The brutal sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup leaves Fernando Hierro scrambling to keep Spain on track after a disorienting 24 hours for one of the pre-tournament favourites.

What next for Spain after shock Lopetegui sacking?
The new coach of the Spanish national football team, Fernando Hierro (L) poses with president of the Spanish football federation Luis Rubiales. Photo: AFP

Spain face European champions Portugal in Sochi on Friday in a clash that caught the eye even before a series of astonishing events unfolded.   

Lopetegui was surprisingly named Real Madrid manager on Tuesday and was meant to take charge at the Santiago Bernabeu after the tournament.

But less than a day later he finds himself turfed out of the Spain camp.   

The firing of the former Madrid and Barcelona goalkeeper is just the latest reminder of the fine balance any manager of La Roja must strike in the omnipresent rivalry between the country's two biggest clubs.

READ MORE: Lopetegui SACKED as Spain coach after taking Real Madrid job


Julen Lopetegui was fired after taking the job as Real Madrid manager. Photo: AFP

For the first time in a major tournament since 2006, Real's six-strong contingent outnumber Barça players in the Spain squad with only Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets selected, along with Andres Iniesta, who only last month brought his glorious 16-year career at the Camp Nou to an end.

With at least six of the expected starting XI for the Portugal game to come from Madrid and Barça, Hierro, himself a former Real captain, must ensure club loyalties do not further undermine Spain's chances, with divisions already appearing between the players and the federation.

According to Spanish press reports, the players' wish for Lopetegui to stay, including from Pique and Busquets, could not change federation chief Luis Rubiales' mind, so furious was he that Lopetegui had not informed his employers of negotiations with Madrid until minutes before the appointment was 
made public.

Experienced figures missed

Lopetegui did not lose a single game in 20 matches as Spain boss but even in a flawless qualifying campaign on the field, the Madrid-Barça rivalry and Spain's turbulent political situation overshadowed their performances.   

Pique, who will retire from international football after the World Cup, has been jeered routinely by Spain fans for the past two years for his jibes at Real and for defending Catalonia's right to have a referendum on independence from Spain.

The rivalry was often cited as a reason for Spain's tag as perennial underachievers at major tournaments until a golden run of three consecutive victories between 2008 and 2012.

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

Despite his paucity of managerial experience, having spent just one season in charge of second division Oviedo, Hierro could help unify a distressed camp.   

He was popular among the players as the federation's sporting director between 2007 and 2011, and returned to that role in November last year.   

Games against Iran and Morocco to come in Group B should also give Spain time to recover, even if Portugal do inflict a bad start. Spain bounced back to win the World Cup in 2010 after losing their opening game to Switzerland.   

Hierro will also be able to call on one of the most talented squads on show in Russia, with a healthy mix of experience and youth.   

Captain Sergio Ramos, Pique, Iniesta and Busquets all have experience of winning major tournaments, while the likes of Koke, Isco and Marco Asensio brought more energy as Lopetegui added fresh blood to Spain in the qualifiers.   

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

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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