SOCHI: Spain captain Sergio Ramos and new coach Fernando Hierro displayed a united front as they looked ahead to Friday’s World Cup opener against Cristiano Ronaldo’s European champions Portugal following an extraordinary 48 hours.
Hierro and Ramos posed together, smiling for the cameras, at a press conference inside the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, the venue for the Group B clash between the Iberian neighbors.
Coming into this World Cup, Spain had been seen as one of the outstanding favorites to lift the trophy in Russia after a two-year unbeaten run under Julen Lopetegui.
But Wednesday’s sensational decision by the Spanish Football Federation to sack Lopetegui, in response to the announcement he would take over at Real Madrid after the tournament, has threatened to derail their chances.
Suddenly Hierro – a great former Real and Spain defender but a man with little coaching experience – finds himself in charge of a side eager to show they can still go all the way on Russian soil.
“There is nobody better than Fernando. He was a great player and has known us for a long time,” said Ramos, the Spain captain.
There had been fears that the announcement of Lopetegui’s appointment by Real could open up old divisions between the Madrid and Barcelona factions in the Spain squad.
But Ramos showed an eagerness to move on and focus on the competition while insisting that this week’s events had not upset any relationships.
Maradona makes Mexico debut with 4-1 win
CULIACAN (Mexico): Diego Maradona won big in his Mexican coaching debut Monday, as the Argentine legend’s new club, Dorados, routed fellow second-division side Cafetaleros 4-1.
Maradona has raised eyebrows with his decision to coach the struggling team from Culiacan, Sinaloa, in the heart of Mexican drug cartel country.
But he was all smiles as Ecuadoran forward Vinicio Angulo – wearing Maradona’s old number 10 – scored a hat trick to give the new coach the win.
“We played a great match,” he told a packed press conference afterward.
“Some people said Maradona’s useless. There were a lot of stupid people going on television to fill up the time. I hope they’ll come to the pitch now and look at my record and see what we’re actually doing, see that I know how to do this,” he added.
Still, it was hardly a monumental win: Dorados were 13th in their league heading into the match, and Cafetaleros 15th.
With their newly earned three points, Maradona’s team doubled their previous total and leaped to 10th place. Maradona vowed it was just the beginning.
“This was nothing, this was just one match,” he said, sporting a gold-and-white Dorados cap. “We’re still going to be playing in a lot of finals. Let’s not think we’ve achieved anything with this match. This is just the start of a beautiful dream.”
Maradona, 57, lived the finest hours of his playing career in Mexico, leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title. His coaching career has been less stellar, and he has publicly struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism, and obesity along the way.
He got a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Culiacan last week. But he failed to fill Dorados’s 20,000-seat stadium for his debut.
Attendance did more than double from the club’s recent matches, however: there were 10,133 fans in attendance, up from just over 4,000 on average at the previous two home appearances.
Ronaldo, Salah and Modric nominated for FIFA best player award
LONDON: Lionel Messi was left off the shortlist for the FIFA’s men’s player of the year award for the first time in over a decade on Monday as his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo was named alongside Luka Modric and Mohamed Salah.
Messi has dominated the award along with Ronaldo over the past decade, but the Barcelona star has been omitted from the top three for the first time since 2006.
A five-time winner of the award, Messi has also finished second in the voting for each of Ronaldo’s five previous wins in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Ronaldo ended a nine-year stay at Real Madrid on a high with a fourth Champions League in five years before joining Italian giants Juventus in July.
Yet, that might not even be enough for the Portuguese to edge ahead in his battle for supremacy with Messi by adding his sixth crown when the winners are announced on 24th September.
Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric is best-placed to become the first new name to win the award for 10 years after a superb season for club and country.
As well as his influential displays in Real’s Champions League triumph, the Croatia midfielder won the Golden Ball for the best player at the tournament as Croatia reached their first World Cup final, finishing as runners-up to France.
“I really hope Modric will win because I think what he did in the World Cup was really special,” said legendary former Manchester United and Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in his role as a FIFA ambassador on Monday.
“He’s this quiet guy we know from Real Madrid, but when we saw him in the World Cup he became a majestic leader. He was wearing the captain’s armband, leading from the front, the first guy to put a tackle in, and we saw a side of Luka Modric I hadn’t seen before.”
Salah’s 44 goals in an incredible debut season for Liverpool saw him edge out Messi and French World Cup stars Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann for a place in the top three.
The Egyptian led Liverpool to the Champions League final before cruelly suffering an injury early on in Kiev against Madrid that also limited his participation at the World Cup.
France may not have any runners for the best player award but two Frenchmen lead the finalists for the best coach as World Cup-winning manager Didier Deschamps and former Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane are joined by Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic.
Deschamps became just the third man to win the World Cup as a player and coach with victory over Dalic’s Croatia in Russia, while Zidane led Real to a third consecutive Champions League win in May before stepping down.
The best goalkeeper prize is to be contested by Tottenham and France’s Hugo Lloris, Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel, son of Peter, and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois, whose World Cup heroics earned him a move to Real Madrid.
Ronaldo and Messi both feature among the 10 nominees for the Puskas Award for best goal of the year, along with Gareth Bale’s sensational overhead kick in the Champions League final.
Lyon’s Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg and German midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan are joined by Brazilian five-time winner Marta in the running for the best women’s player after winning the Champions League with the French giants.
Reynold Pedros of Lyon, Japan boss Asako Takakura and Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman are in the running for best women’s coach.
FIFA takes charge of Uruguay FA
MONTEVIDEO: Football’s world governing body FIFA has taken control of the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF) after the organization was plunged into chaos following the sudden resignation of president Wilmar Valdez last month.
A letter from FIFA reported in local media said the body had set up a “regularisation committee” aimed at restoring order to the AUF.
The FIFA committee would be responsible for managing the affairs of the FA through to February 28, 2019, and would revise the organization’s statues and arrange new elections.
Uruguayan football has been in crisis since July 30, when president Valdez, who had favorite to win a new term in a vote the following day, abruptly resigned.
Valdez stepped down after the emergence of mysterious audio recordings just before his re-election bid.
Although the exact content of the recordings is unknown, media said they contained comments about sports administrators, a member of the government, sports journalists and supporters.
One of Valdez’s campaign rivals said the recordings were “slightly compromising Wilmar’s image.”
Valdez, however, has denied the recordings were responsible for his resignation.
“This decision has been motivated solely by family and personal reasons that have nothing to do with the context of the current election,” he said. “I want to stress that I was under no undue pressure, threats or extortion in making this decision.”