Fernando Hierro to manage Spain at World Cup after Lopetegui sacked – as it happened

Real Madrid-bound Julen Lopetegui was sacked as Spain coach two days before their first match, while Canada, USA and Mexico won the vote to host the 2026 tournament

That’s it for today’s World Cup liveblog, which was far livelier than expected thanks to Spain’s decision to, y’know, sack their manager two days before their opening game. Scotland may not have qualified for the World Cup, but a former Hamilton Academical defender has turned the tournament on its head.

Russia 2018 officially kicks off tomorrow, with the hosts taking on Saudi Arabia at 4pm BST. Simon Burnton will be in charge of the liveblog from around 8am. Thanks for your company today, happy World Cup Eve!

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Today's World Cup headlines

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Let’s cook! And so to my stomach, which is rumbling with hunger after being tipped off about this little project. Sam, the head designer in our US office, and his girlfriend Shannon have cooked a meal for each of the 32 countries at the World Cup, and will be publishing recipes during the tournament. If you want to give your palate its very own Josimar moment, follow the blog here.

The Danish Smørrebrød looks magnificent.

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The actual football starts tomorrow. These are the fixtures for the first three days of Russia 2018 (all times BST)

Thursday

  • Russia v Saudi Arabia (4pm)

Friday

  • Egypt v Uruguay (1pm)
  • Morocco v Iran (4pm)
  • Portugal v Spain (7pm)

Saturday

  • France v Australia (11am)
  • Argentina v Iceland (2pm)
  • Peru v Denmark (5pm)
  • Croatia v Nigeria (8pm)

And you can peruse a full fixture list here.

Who needs managers? “If Spain go on to have a great World Cup will it mean the end of the cult of the manager?” wonders Dave Soare. “Will England organise a game show two weeks before the lads fly out to decide who is going to take them to the second round in Qatar?”

What I love about that email is that you think you’re joking.

Nothing to see here!

The press are still diligently attempting to get Hierro to slag off Lopetegui “We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves or think about other things. Our objective is to fight for a World Cup – we’ve been two years preparing for this. We must show maturity.”

Hierro “If I was not convinced of the power of this team, I would not be here. They are very nice guys and very good football players. It hasn’t been an easy for anybody but I am convinced they will do their best.”

Hierro continues

“My job is just the match against Portugal, and then the next match and then the next match. We don’t think about what’s coming in the future or beyond the World Cup. [When asked if he was disappointed with Lopetegui’s behaviour] I’ll be honest with you: it would be a big mistake if we think of the past rather than the future. My head is very relaxed and I only have to face what’s coming in the future. The World Cup only comes every four years so we need to focus.”

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More from Hierro

“I have told the players that I have been in their position. I know the kind of challenges they face. They have come here to fight for a World Cup. Everybody has huge expectations and our focus must be our football, not the problems off the field. We have to fight for that.”

Fernando Hierro and Luis Rubiales are chatting to the press

Hierro: “The whole team is with us. We have already prepared for this match and we need to be consistent. From here until the end of the World Cup we don’t have much scope to change, we need to follow the work that has been done in the past year. This is a fantastic group of players who had an awesome qualification – I have asked them to simply be themselves and follow their personality on the field.”

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Spain The caretaker coach Fernando Hierro is due to meet the press in a few minutes. I bet he’s the personification of joie de vivre right now.

Mwah-ha-ha department AS reports that Real Madrid’s press release yesterday has saved them €2m – that was the buy-out clause in Julen Lopetegui’s contract.

One day to go! This time tomorrow, the 2018 World Cup will be 15 minutes old, and the score will almost certainly be Russia 0-0 Saudi Arabia.

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“Hi Rob,” says Karam Filfilan. “Personally, I can’t wait for Russia v Saudi Arabia tomorrow. As a half-Saudi, I’m looking forward to the novel idea of going up against a country more disliked than us. Also, I still haven’t gotten over our disastrous defending when leading Tunisia 2-1 on our last world cup appearance in 2006, which allowed Big Sam’s Radhi Jaidi to nut the equaliser in injury time.”

As today’s events have confirmed, you could tell a comprehensive history of the World Cup by focusing entirely on players managed by Sam Allardyce.

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“As an American, I was pretty disappointed to hear the US, Mexico, & Canada won 2026,” says Mikey O’Donnell, who has at least changed the acronym. “Joining the exclusive club of Russia and Qatar the same week your president cozies up to a North Korean dictator and picks a fight with Canada surely isn’t something to celebrate. Plus Morocco would’ve been a blast.”

Brazil No news from the 2018 camp, so why not enjoy a bit of the old nostalgia? A bit of pre-tournament chaos didn’t do them too much harm in 1986.

“Hi Rob,” says Abhu Tyagi. “If Spain were Pakistan, I would put money on them winning this World Cup. This is exactly the kind of thing that would happen to Pakistan before a major cricketing tournament.”

Ha, that’s so true. But if it was really Pakistan, they’d also lose their first two games, sneak through on three points and thrash everyone by at least four goals in the knockout stages.

“There is no loyalty in football generally,” says Ruth Purdue. “I think the Spanish FA have made a mistake and possibly disrupted what could have ended in glory. I hope I am wrong as this Spanish squad is something special.”

I don’t think it’s what he has done so much as the way it was done. The more I think about it, the more I admire the Spanish FA president and former Hamilton Academical defender Luis Rubiales for placing such emphasis on integrity. I’m still not sure it’s the correct decision but, in what has become a thoroughly disgusting sport, his stance is kind of refreshing.

Spain There has been no public comment from Julen Lopetegui, who was sacked this morning. I wonder if part of him is tempted to tell Real where to stick their job. Fernando Hierro, his replacement, is due to be shouted at by the press in just under an hour.

There’s nothing much happening out in Russia, so it’s time for more visual entertainment.

Some Championship news Marcelo Bielsa, who led Argentina to the last 32 at the 2002 World Cup, is set to take over as coach of Leeds United.

“Portugal won Euro 2016,” says Matt Dony, “because Aaron Ramsey got suspended.”

You’re still listening to this on loop two years later, aren’t you?

“Croatia have to be at risk,” says Stu Morphet. “Ongoing scandals in the FA and two players facing perjury charges is not ideal prep for a World Cup....”

Yes, that’s a really interesting group. It’s an immutable law of World Cups that any group including a Scandinavian team is tough to predict.

“Germany,” says David Boyes. “Just a hunch, but they basically have the same team with the same long serving manager. Will things be a bit stale, have they already peaked? Though it’s not a difficult group, neither is it an easy one.”

I know what you mean, in that Sweden are capable of putting a spanner in anyone’s works with a 1-1 draw, but I can’t see it. Germany and Brazil invariably win their group and I think that’ll happen again, which would be bad news for England as it would mean certain defeat to one or the other in the quarter-finals (if they get that far).

It’s interesting that a few of you fancy Portugal to go out in the group stages. I’m still not really sure how they won Euro 2016.

“Even before all this nonsense today with Spain, I commented somewhere on the Guardian that it’s not beyond the realms that both Portugal and Spain end up not going through from their group,” says Richard Dennis. “Iran, the best side in Asia, by a fair old amount, and Morocco are a very complete team. Portugal do not inspire me with confidence, and nor do Spain. So, in answer to your question, I give you two answers instead, and both from the same group no less!”

Good one. Next you’ll be telling me Brazil will lose 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final.

At almost every World Cup in my football-watching lifetime, a big team has gone out in the first round: the Soviet Union in 1990, Colombia in 1994, Spain in 1998, France, Portugal and Argentina in 2002, the Czech Republic in 2006, France and Italy in 2010, Spain, Portugal and Italy in 2014.

Who do you think it will be this year? I wouldn’t be shocked if it was Argentina. They have a slippery group: Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. France’s group is not the easiest either - Australia, Peru and Denmark - and it’s not beyond the realms that England could go home too soon. Tunisia are a decent side.

So, to summarise: it’ll be a Tunisia v Denmark final on 15 July.

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Saudi Arabia There’s another Spanish coach in Russia. Juan Antonio Pizzi, who played his part in another Spain World Cup shambles 20 years ago, is in charge of Saudi Arabia. They will meet Russia tomorrow in the opening match of the tournament.

England Here’s a weird thing: England are at the World Cup, and even jaded hacks are wishing them well. Sachin Nakrani explains why.

This is a Panini treasure trove,” says Adam Hirst. All the Panini you could ever eat… Togo, Tahiti, Scotland… Personal Memory-Inducing Favourite: the Spain 82 stadiums.”

España 82, please. Show some respect on today of all days.

It’s a little quiet at the moment, with no managers sacked in the past three hours, so here’s a summary of today’s main news:

“Atonement!”

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Here’s more on the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted by Canada, USA and Mexico.

Iran In the rich history of football, coaches have used thousands of things to stir their players into action. But this might be the first time a bland statement from a shoe manufacturer has been used as a motivational tool

Thanks Baz, hello again. Let’s proceed straight to this visual feast.

All change! Like Fernando Hierro itching to get into Julen Lopetegui’s chair, Rob Smyth is fed, watered and rearing to take over. He will keep you updated with all the World Cup news that’s fit to print (and plenty that isn’t) throughout the afternoon, so don’t touch that dial.

2026 World Cup: “It’s been announced that USA, Canada and Mexico will be hosting the 2026 tournament after getting the nod at this morning’s Fifa conference in Moscow. Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo has a question: “does the world cup going to three countries mean all three automatically qualify?” he asks.

It’s a good question and the answer at the moment is that nobody knows whether all three will qualify automatically as hosts, or if a single auto-bid will be dispensed. That will probably be decided at the next congress, in 2019. With 48 teams slated to take part in 2026, I suspect Fifa might let them all in. Canada, obviously, invariably struggle to qualify, while Mexico are the only country of the three represented at this year’s tournament after America somehow managed not to qualify ahead of Panama.

Ashley Young
Ashley Young poses for a photo with a couple of local Repina lads. Photograph: Peter Kovalev/TASS

England training
England’s players sign autographs for locals in Repino at their open training session earlier today. Photograph: Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

Spain press conference: According to Spanish newspaper AS, Spain’s new manager Fernando Hierro is scheduled to address the media in the Krasnodar Stadium press room in Sochi at 4.30pm (BST). That ought to be a lively presser.

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Saipan revisited: There are echoes of Roy Keane being sent home from Saipan around this morning’s Spanish shenanigans, although there appears to have been little or no dithering in the Spanish version. After Keane was sent some (many in Ireland still maintain he left of his own accord and it’s true that he left Mick McCarthy with little choice but to send him home), various politicians and broadcasters intervened to try and make everyone involved see some “sense” and “think of the children”. Spain have moved quickly to replace Julen Lopetegui with their own technical director Fernando Hierro.

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Our report from England training

Eric Dier has allayed any concerns over his fitness prompted by a heavy strapping on his left thigh at England’s open training session at Spartak Zelenogorsk Stadium. The Tottenham Hotspur player, who is competing with Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph for the defensive midfielder role, confirmed he had been suffering from a minor injury but has now recovered fully.

“I am fine,” he said. “It is just a superstition more than anything now. It’s just because I’ve had a problem with my leg and it’s cleared up now. But I was wearing the strapping before, and I just haven’t stopped wearing it yet. I will, eventually.”

Marcus Rashford was the only member of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man party who missed the team’s first session at their base in Repino on the Gulf of Finland, with the Manchester United striker having suffered a kick to his knee prior to the squad’s departure from St George’s Park. He is expected to conduct some gym work back at the team hotel this afternoon and should be in contention for Monday’s opening group game against Tunisia in Volgograd.

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Speaking of Sid: Our man who’s an authority on all things Spanish is not one for sitting on the fence and has some seriously strident opinions on the sacking of Lopetegui.

From the vaults: Following this morning’s news from the Spain camp, I got a kick out of re-reading this interview our own Sid Lowe conducted with Julen Lopetegui back in 2016. In it, the now former Spain manager fondly recalls his days playing with Mark Draper. I wonder does Fernando Hierro fondly recall his days playing alongside Kevin Nolan and Nicky Hunt?

Mark Draper
Mark Draper played alongside the just-sacked Spain manager Julen Lopetegui at Rayo Vallecano. Photograph: Nuno Correia/Allsport/Getty Images

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More on Spain: It’s been confirmed that Fernando Hierro will take charge of the Spanish football team for the duration of the tournament after the shock dismissal of Julen Lopetegui. Hierro is Spain’s technical director and the two men were spotted walking around Spain’s training ground just a few hours ago, in very deep and occasionally animated conversation. I wonder what they were talking about?

Fernando Hierro
Fernando Hierro will take charge of Spain for the World Cup. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Happy World Cup eve, one and all – Barry Glendenning here to provide some cover while Rob Smyth stretches his legs after a long stint in the hot-seat.

It being the calm before a perfect storm that’ll be begin when Russia take on Saudi Arabia tomorrow, it’s been a quiet day with very little news of any significance.

Well, very little news of any significance apart from Marcus Rashford sitting out England training with a minor knee injury, the USA, Canada and Mexico getting the 2026 World Cup and … eh ... oh yeah, only SPAIN DECIDING TO SACK THEIR MANAGER JUST TWO DAYS BEFORE THEIR OPENING GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT. Stay tuned and we’ll keep you updated with developments from the Spanish camp as they unravel.

BREAKING NEWS: FERNANDO HIERRO WILL COACH SPAIN AT THE WORLD CUP

If you’ve been in a digital detox pod for the last few hours, Julen Lopetegui was sacked this morning.

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The 12.56pm news

I need some lunch, so World Cup Bazzer is going to step into the hot seat for a little while. I’ll leave you with today’s headlines.

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“With Lopetegui, an important clue is the reference to him needing to manage a team ‘of all Spaniards’,” says John Johnson. “In a highly sensitive time when the question of exactly who are Spaniards is a critical question (Catalan separation), you can’t have the national coach simultaneously being the manager of the club team (Real Madrid) most identified with everything anti-Catalan. At least, not if you want to keep your Barcelona players happy, and want to project *some* sense of Spain as a unified country. It was the right decision, but either way it will reinforce the sense of arrogance and entitlement many Catalans feel towards the rest of Spain. Unbelievably stupid move from Lopetegui.”

Yes, good point. I still think there should have been a way for him to continue, but it’s easy to say that when you’ve never lived in Spain.

Spain “Your post at 11:54 suggested to let the situation marinate for another 24 hours before sacking Lopetegui,” says Richard Firth. “However, that would have put them even closer to the kickoff for the Portugal game which might have made them look even more ridiculous had they still decided to sack him.”

True, but it would have given them a greater chance of making the right decision, which is all that should matter. I’m not sure 24 or 48 hours’ notice makes much difference, but an extra 24 hours’ thought might have done. That said, the more you read about it the more you think the Spanish FA president and former Hamilton Academical defender was unlikely to change his mind.

Shouldn’t you be doing some work? Oh.

The Fiver! In today’s Super Soaraway World Cup special, the Fiver considers… a Spanish shambles.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

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A heads-up As an Important Journalist, I’ve had a preview of a BBC documentary that will air on Sunday evening. It’s called Managing England: The Impossible Job, it’s brilliant, and you should watch it.

And some lunchtime viewing (this is great)

“I’m surprised,” begins Edouard Guidon,. “that no-one has mentioned the precedent of the French national manager, Jacques Santini, committing himself to manage Spurs just before Euro 2004, a decision which was disastrous for absolutely all concerned...”

But not for Gift Grub.

Today’s news

Here are the headlines on another slow news day. Can’t the World Cup just start already?

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The 2026 World Cup will have 80 matches: 60 in the USA, 10 in Mexico and 10 in Canada. 80 matches! Who’d be a golden goose?

The hell with it: while we’re plugging work from elsewhere...

Our own Daniel Harris has been Lopeteguing with the New Statesman – here’s his typically brilliant World Cup preview.

“If Mexico are co-hosting, does this mean ‘The Wall’ will need extra doors?” says Alan Phoenix-Bates. “How’s this going to work? Observation: nobody seems to ask questions like “How’s this going to work?” these days.”

That’s because nobody gets that far – they just throw crowd-pleasing rhetoric around and argue in vague terms until everyone gets bored and moves onto something else.

Here’s more on the news that Canada, USA and Mexico will host the 2026 World Cup. Fifa might want to change the order of the three nations before they come up with an acronym for the tournament.

Spain: who’s to blame?

“There’s a real sense of outrage in Spain about Florentino Perez’s latest stunt and Lopetegui’s perceived lack of respect to the national team. Rubiales is probably reflecting the mood of the nation more accurately than the players. I don’t see that he could have done anything else. Fergie was right: I wouldnae sell Madrid a virus either.”

He sold them the best bloody footballer of the last 30 years though! But yes, the more I think about it the more I think that, at worst, the former Hamilton Academical defender and Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales was put in a horrible position. I still think he should have let it marinate for another 24 hours, but Lopetegui’s naivety almost beggars belief.

All that said, we probably shouldn’t rush to judgement until some of the facts are in, or even all of them.

Breaking news: Canada, USA and Mexico will host the 2026 World Cup!

Yep. Morocco have missed out, and the World Cup will return to North America for the first time since 1994.

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The English model

I bet Lopetegui could use a pint of wine right now.

Justice for toxic masculinity! “Noticed you’ve mentioned Rubiales’ ‘wounded male pride’ several times over the course of the blog,” says Chris Zacharia. “Had a female FA chief sacked Lopetegui, and journalists had rushed to label it ‘female jealousy’, they would have rightly been questioned for their choice of terminology. Even if Rubiales did do it out of ‘wounded pride’, what makes it ‘male’ as opposed to simply human?”

Spain It seems likely that Lo