World Cup flop Spain parts ways with emergency coach Hierro

MADRID — Fernando Hierro is out as coach of Spain’s national team after less than a month in charge and a disappointing four-game run at the World Cup.

The Spanish federation said Sunday that it wanted “to thank Fernando Hierro for his commitment and for assuming the responsibility of being in charge of the national team during some extraordinary situations.”

Hierro was promoted from sporting director to the top job two days before Spain opened the tournament against Portugal. New federation president Luis Rubiales was incensed that previous coach Julen Lopetegui had agreed to take charge at Real Madrid after the World Cup without giving the federation sufficient notice. Lopetegui was summarily fired on June 13 despite a 20-game unbeaten streak that had made Spain one of the favourites coming into the tournament.

Spain drew with Portugal and Morocco and beat Iran 1-0 to win their group, then lost to Russia on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the round of 16, a match in which the Spanish were criticized for completing more than 1,000 passes without producing enough scoring chances.

The federation’s statement didn’t indicate whether Hierro left voluntarily but said he had declined to return to his previous role as sporting director. It called him “an extraordinary sportsman” and said the national team “would always be his home.”

Hierro, 50, is a former national team player and Real Madrid captain. He served as sporting director when Spain won the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup, what the federation called “the national team’s greatest period.” But he had never held a major coaching job.

“I couldn’t have said ‘no,’ I wouldn’t forgive myself,” Hierro said at the news conference introducing him as coach, two days before the match against European champion Portugal. “We still have a great opportunity in front of us. We have to remain positive and move forward.”

Later in the tournament, Hierro suggested he had stayed in contact with Lopetegui but said they didn’t discuss strategy.

“Julen has his job now, and I’ve got mine,” Hierro said after Spain won the group by a narrow margin. “I’ve got my hands full. We’re not sending texts to each other. We each have our own identities and our own ideas.

“We are friends and we might communicate as friends but we do not talk about football and tactics. Please don’t think that every time I have to make a decision I call up Lopetegui and ask his opinion.”

Taking over the team with zero notice “wasn’t a challenge. That’s not the way I see it,” Hierro insisted. “It’s a source of pride to be the coach of Spain. It’s a great honour.”

Addressing media in Madrid the day after his firing, Lopetegui said his dismissal from the Spain job was the saddest day of his life since the day his mother had died, and called the day he officially took the helm at Real the happiest.

Rubiales, who took over as president in May, said Lopetegui and Real Madrid had left him no choice by refusing to delay the announcement.

“The federation has its values and it has to maintain them,” Rubiales said. “It may look like a weakness now, but with time this will make us stronger.”

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