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Emotional Lopetegui at Real introduction: Spain firing ‘saddest day’

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It’d be fair to assume Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would sympathize with anyone changing managers in a fit of emotion, but the 71-year-old is enraged on behalf of his new coach Julen Lopetegui.

[ MORE: Will Spain be affected? ]

Madrid introduced Lopetegui on Thursday. The Spanish coach is taking the reins from resigned boss Zinedine Zidane one day after the Spanish national team fired Lopetegui for taking the Real job without informing them.

Yes, the same Spanish team who enters this month’s World Cup as one of the favorites.

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Perez lambasted the Spanish federation, which claimed both Lopetegui and his new club “betrayed” the country, citing Chelsea and Manchester United hiring Antonio Conte and Louis Van Gaal on the eve of major tournaments for their national teams.

And Lopetegui claimed his players reacted well to his telling them he’d leave the national team set-up after the World Cup.

At one point, Lopetegui became emotional in discussing the last 24-48 hours.

From Real Madrid’s web site:

“I believe I’m ready for this adventure and to take the wonderful squad of players we have under my wing. Real Madrid aspires to win everything and I feel part of the family at this club. Yesterday was the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother, but today is the happiest.”

We get it, Julen, and there’s no reason for him to feel shamed. We supposed he could’ve told Real to wait until after the World Cup to speak, but then could miss out on a dream job.

The 51-year-old coached Real Madrid B from 2008-09 before moving onto Spain’s youth set-up, then Porto, then Spain’s senior team.

U.S. gets Russia’s World Cup vote as logic trumps politics

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MOSCOW (AP) The United States was able to celebrate a World Cup victory in Russia after all. Thanks to assistance from the host nation at a FIFA Congress addressed by President Vladimir Putin.

For all the geopolitical tensions between the superpowers, Russia had no qualms about pressing the electronic keypads to select the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico over Morocco in the 2026 World Cup hosting vote in Moscow on Wednesday.

“Football is separate from politics,” said Alexander Alayev, acting president of the Russian football federation. “Morocco prepared a very strong and interesting bid, but the unified bid was much stronger in all aspects.”

Maybe, finally, some sports officials made decisions based on existing merits and what is best for the game, rather than following political agendas.

“This should not be about geopolitics,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said. “This was not a vote in the United Nations.”

The U.S. may have hoped for a vote from North Korea after the rapprochement between the nations during an extraordinary summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea instead opted for the Moroccan proposals that were dismissed by FIFA inspectors as high-risk in three areas and overwhelmingly rejected by the football world.

Morocco wasn’t even able to harness unanimous support from Africa, with 11 federations voting against their continental counterpart.

Despite his country voting for Morocco, Cameroon federation official Kevin Njomo accepted the World Cup would be “more profitable in America.”

Morocco also didn’t get full support from other Muslim-majority nations, with Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among the 134 backers of the North American bid.

Has there really been an outbreak of common sense at a governing body where the specter of wrongdoing has hung over decisions in recent years? The 69 majority for North America meant FIFA avoids a fifth consecutive risky, tricky World Cup after South Africa, Brazil, Russia, which opens on Thursday without a U.S. team, and Qatar in 2022.

Where Morocco needed to spend billions of dollars building or renovating all 14 proposed stadiums, North America could host the World Cup almost immediately if needed.

Ultimately, Morocco’s record on human rights and lack of protections for the LGBT community, which were criticized by FIFA, might have helped to swing the decision.

Unlike the contentious dual votes in 2010 for Russia and Qatar, this time the inspection reports of each bid were a guide for voters from FIFA’s full membership.

In an unexpected late intervention after presentations on Wednesday, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura gave the North American bid one final push before the ballot when she summarized the review task force’s verdict that saw Morocco fare so poorly.

Not only did she remind delegates about Morocco’s lack of infrastructure but highlighted the North American bid’s ability to deliver double the revenue at $14 billion.

Obviously, money talks.

“We tried to make the case of what’s best for FIFA,” Cordeiro said. That means swelling the coffers from FIFA’s signature tournament to allow President Gianni Infantino to distribute cash to the around the world to member federations.

The only real stumbling block on the campaign for the North Americans was concern about the impact of Trump’s push for immigration restrictions and a leaked White House outburst about African nations.

The bid team believed it wasn’t insurmountable.

“The politics of today may not be the politics of next year or five years or eight years down the road,” Canada’s federation president Steven Reed said.

Indeed, the U.S. passed this global test of popularity, aided by the inclusion of Canada and Mexico on the ticket.

“The unity of the three nations came together to offer what no one nation including my own can provide today,” Cordeiro said. “I think that was a powerful message. That is something we repeated and repeated over again. I think it made the difference at the end.”

No wonder Infantino described himself as a “happy man.” FIFA, it appears, got just what it wanted.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Gerard Pique channels 1989 Michigan NCAA tournament run amid Spain turmoil

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Gerard Pique wants his team – and fans – to know that the turmoil surrounding the leadership of the Spanish national team is bringing the squad together not tearing it apart.

Also, he knows there’s precedent for the situation they’re in.

Pique posted on Twitter that they’re channeling the 1989 Michigan Wolverines basketball team that won the NCAA Tournament under interim head coach Steve Fisher. Pique seems well versed in the American sports comeback story.

Pique’s tweet reads, “University of Michigan. Basketball. 1989. NCAA Champion. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened. All together, now more than ever.”

Just prior to the 1989 NCAA Tournament, Michigan basketball coach Bill Frieder announced he had accepted a position as the head coach of Arizona State – a position which he would take at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler was so angry at the announcement that he fired Frieder on the spot, and hired top assistant Fisher to take his place and coach the tournament. The Wolverines went on to win the entire thing, toppling 2-seed North Carolina, 1-seed Illinois, and 3-seed Seton Hall on the way, winning the title by a single point in overtime over the Pirates.

Upon the coaching change, Schembechler announced, “a Michigan man is going to coach a Michigan team,” spawning the popular phrase “Michigan man.” Spain’s interim coach Fernando Hierro is certainly a “Spanish man” himself, having appeared 89 times for the Spanish national team in his playing days, scoring 29 goals as a defender and appearing in four World Cups.

USMNT, United Bid receive major lift with 2026 World Cup approval

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Hosting a World Cup is a spectacle unlike any other, and in two cycles, the world’s biggest competition will return to North America following Wednesday’s vote.

[ MORE: Spain fires Lopetegul two days before first WC match ]

With the decision to hand the United Bid — comprised of the Canada, Mexico and United States football federations — the rights to the 2026 edition of the World Cup, it gives those in the western quadrant of the world something significant to look forward to for the future.

Mexico will once again enjoy itself this summer, as the 2018 tournament prepares to kick off on Thursday, but there has been a bitter taste in many Americans’ mouths since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s failure in the build up to Russia.

By no means does the award of 2026 take away that grief, nor should it, but what the positive vote does offer the U.S. and its North American mates is an exciting beginning to a new era.

And it’s one that the three CONCACAF nations can say they historically took part in.

2026 ushers in the start of the 48-team World Cup, which gives teams from North America an enhanced opportunity of qualifying for the competition.

Instead of three automatic places in the tournament, six will be given by that time. Meanwhile, it is expected that another spot will be up for grabs in the form of a playoff.

While the U.S. and Mexico have become World Cup mainstays throughout the tournament’s past, this is particularly pertinent for Canada — who has appeared in just one World Cup (1986).

For years, North America has looked at avenues to grow its game, and while some may argue that a 48-team competition will dilute the World Cup field, for CONCACAF and the rest of the World Cup it opens up a brand-new opportunity for teams that have previously been left at the alter.

From an American perspective, it’s selfish but after the struggles in the lead up to 2018 it’s nice knowing that the USMNT will be guaranteed a spot in its own tournament.

Joking aside though, the U.S. has a track record of putting on quality events, whether that be the 1994 World Cup, the Olympic Games and beyond.

Not to mention the 2026 World Cup will coincide with the 250-year anniversary of the U.S.’ independence.

As nice as it is to travel and experience new countries, having the tournament come to our own backyard is a chance that simply cannot be missed, especially considering it will be held in three separate countries for the first time in the history of the World Cup.

The wounds of 2018 may still sting for the U.S., but for today at least, the Yanks, El Tri and The Canucks have won in the biggest way possible.

Spain fire Lopetegui in huge shock on eve of World Cup

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The story of the 2018 World Cup may have just occurred.

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Spain have fired their head coach Julen Lopetegui a day after it was announced he would become the new manager of Real Madrid following the World Cup.

On the eve of the tournament and just over 48 hours before their opening game of Group B play against rivals Portugal on Friday, the Spanish national team are in chaos.

Fernando Hierro has been rushed in as the new head coach but the Real Madrid and Spanish national team legend will have his work cut out.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference in Krasnodar, Russia, the president of the Spanish Football Association, Luis Rubiales, detailed the decision to fire Lopetegui, 51.

“It’s the Spanish team. You can’t do things this way,” Rubiales said. “I don’t feel betrayed. Lopetegui, while he’s been with us, has done impeccable work. Another COA is how this has been done, without knowledge of the association. I admire Julen very much, I respect him very much. He seems to me a top trainer and that makes it harder to make the decision.”

Rubiales went on to confirm that he found out about Lopetegui agreeing to join Real Madrid, after the World Cup, just five minutes before the official announcement was made on Tuesday.

The announcement of Lopetegui taking over at Real Madrid is also said to have caused serious problems within the Spanish camp. The timing of the announcement was deemed as being too disruptive with players from Real said to have known he would take over from Zinedine Zidane before their national team teammates from other clubs.

Lopetegui took charge of Spain in 2016 and led them to the World Cup and was unbeaten in his 20 games in charge. He was due to coach in his first major tournament as the Spanish coach but now that has all ended.

Ahead of Spain’s opening World Cup game all of the talk is about this crazy situation as Lopetegui’s decision to sign a deal with Real Madrid without previously speaking to the Spanish federation has cost him the chance to lead his country.