Spain's World Cup Odds Drift After Lopetegui Is Axed

Martin Green

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 2:35 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2018 2:35 PM UTC

The odds on Spain winning the World Cup have drifted considerably after they fired coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.

Spain’s World Cup preparations have been plunged into chaos after they sacked coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the big tournament. Real Madrid stunned the world of soccer on Tuesday night by announcing that Lopetegui would succeed Zinedine Zidane as manager at the Bernebeu after the World Cup. That news infuriated Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales, who said he was not consulted on the move and that he only learned about it five minutes before the announcement. He moved swiftly, firing Lopetegui and bringing in former Spain defender Fernando Hierro to replace him, in a move that is totally unprecedented.

The sportsbooks also reacted quickly, and the likes of Bet365 pushed the odds on Spain winning the tournament out to +650. No major team has ever had to deal with such a nightmarish chain of events this close to the start of the World Cup. It is understandable to see the odds drift on Spain lifting the trophy, as Lopetegui was a major factor behind the team’s vast improvement over the past two years. He took over following a disastrous Euro 2016 campaign and he has presided over a two-year unbeaten streak.

Spain won 14 of their 20 games with him in the dugout and drew the other six. They thrashed Italy in their World Cup qualifying group and annihilated Argentina in a recent friendly. He has transformed them from an underachieving team that was stuck in the doldrums to one of the favourites to seize glory at the upcoming World Cup. “I know there's going to be criticism whatever I do,” said Rubiales. “I’m sure this will, in time, make us stronger. I admire Julen very much, I respect him very much. He seems a top trainer and that makes it harder to make the decision. You can't do things this way, two or three days before the World Cup. We have been compelled to make this decision.”

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BREAKING: Fernando Hierro to take charge of @SeFutbol during the @FIFAWorldCup after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui. #SSN

— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) June 13, 2018

Rubiales’ reputation will now live and die on how successful Spain are at this tournament. The players, led by captain Sergio Ramos, had urged him to keep Lopetegui in charge, but he ultimately decided against it. He said it was an “ethical” decision after he was blindsided by the Real Madrid news. We all were. Lopetegui was never mentioned in the conversation about the next coach of Los Blancos after Zidane quit. Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp were the frontrunners, and Lopetegui was out at +10000.

Lopetegui will be kicking himself if Spain now go on to win the World Cup. It evokes memories of Michigan coach Bill Frieder being fired just before the Wolverines went on a historic run under Steve Fisher and won the 1989 NCAA Tournament. There is also the case Nigel Pearson being axed at Leicester City before they defied odds of +500000 to win the Premiership. But Lopetegui could not turn down the opportunity to take on arguably the most prestigious managerial role in world football, and Real Madrid decided to announce the news at an awful time for the national side.

Hierro is not a total stranger to the Spanish set-up, as he was sporting director up until his hiring as coach and he was capped several times as a player. But the lack of continuity is likely to have an impact upon the team. Yet it could go one of two ways: they could crash and burn, and they would have a ready-made excuse; but they could also rally in the face of adversity, thrive and go on to seize glory.

Do not forget that this Spanish squad is still teeming with world-class talent. A spine of David De Gea, Ramos, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets is extremely strong, while David Silva, Isco, Andres Iniesta and Thiago Alcantara are wonderfully creative and Diego Costa is a handful up front. The odds have grown even more attractive on them winning the tournament, and +650 might tempt a fair few people. They have a pretty easy group: Portugal are a strong team, but they should destroy Morocco and Iran. That will give them a few games to adapt to Hierro’s coaching methods, and they could still be a force to be reckoned with in the knockout stages of the competition.

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