Getty Images

How much will Spain’s managerial turmoil hurt their World Cup chances?

1 Comment

Spanish Federation president Luis Rubiales appears to have nuked Spain’s chances at the 2018 World Cup just 24 hours before the opening of the big dance.

Rubiales pulled the power play of all power plays by sacking manager Julen Lopetegui for going behind the federation’s back to negotiate a deal to become Real Madrid’s new boss following the conclusion of the World Cup. After the deal leaked and Los Blancos confirmed the appointment, Rubiales heard the players and Director of Football Fernando Hierro all plead for support of Lopetegui, and then canned him anyways and put the woefully underqualified Hierro in charge.

So how much does this truly affect Spain’s ability to perform at a high level on the biggest soccer stage?

A backroom overhaul at the eve of the World Cup is nothing to scoff at. There can be no greater upheaval to a squad’s preparation than to have its leader undercut on the doorstep. However, the Spanish squad is full of tactically adept veterans such as Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, and many more. It’s unlikely that their tactical makeup will change much – if at all – and with so little time to make any form of sweeping tactical changes, there will likely be close to no major shuffles to the deck.

There was plenty of talk about how Lopetegui was less a tactical puppeteer and more of a mental facilitator during his time in charge of Spain. In fact, in his only club position prior to taking the national team job, he failed in monumental fashion at Porto, unable to finish out his second season with the team in third in the Primera Liga and booted following a massive 6-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. Understanding Lopetegui’s shaky managerial past is critical in deducing that his success with the national team could be as much or more down to his ability to balance his squad’s egos and mental states than a tactical prowess. Thus, the squad may be able to continue on the field without Lopetegui’s guidance and minimize the damage suffered by his sudden departure.

Despite Lopetegui’s success after minimal club experience, looking past Hierro’s monumentally thin managerial resume is still very challenging. He has almost no experience leading a squad, and while he has spent the last year or so as Director of Football under Lopetegui, that’s not nearly enough to instill massive confidence in his ability to lead the national team tactically and emotionally. His only job saw Real Oviedo miss out on the Segunda B divison promotion playoffs on the final match of the season in 2017, leaving the club after just the one season.

So will Lopetegui’s sudden upheaval throw the Spain squad into irreperable chaos, or will Hierro be able to right the ship? Will the squad leadership be enough to see it through the maelstrom, or will the ship be swallowed beneath the stormy waters? It’s unlikely the managerial change will have any major impact on their Group B finish, but with a potential quarterfinal matchup against Argentina looming on the horizon, Spain could be headed for a second disappointing finish in a major tournament in the last two years, a result that fans are unlikely to take in stride.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
Leave a comment

A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
Leave a comment

There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”