SOCHI (Reuters) - Sergio Ramos has given new Spain head coach Fernando Hierro a resounding vote of confidence ahead of their World Cup opener against Portugal in Sochi on Friday.
The sensational sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup after he revealed that he was set to take over at Real Madrid after the tournament sent shockwaves through the Spanish camp on Wednesday.
The Spanish players were said to be against the move to sack Lopetegui and replace him with Hierro, who had been serving as the side’s sporting director at the football association, but there were no signs of dissent at Thursday’s media conference.
“There are few people more qualified than Fernando Hierro to cover for Lopetegui’s departure,” Spain’s captain Ramos told reporters. “He was an outstanding player that we’ve all admired for a long time and he knows us full well.”
“He is one of the most perfect candidates to cover this post, and I hope that this will be a squad that has the same dreams and ambitions as before and that it will not affect us in any way.”
The Real Madrid defender admitted that Lopetegui’s removal had disturbed the players, but that the players were keen to put it behind them as the tournament begins.
“These were not pleasant times. Julen Lopetegui was part of this effort, he helped us qualify, but leaving aside any personal issues, the Spanish side is more important and the sooner we focus on the World Cup, the better for all,” he said.
Facing his Real Madrid team mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos accepts the Spaniards have a tough task against European champions Portugal but he said he was delighted to be captain under such challenging circumstances.
“I am carrying my country, my team and there are very few things that are as big as this. I think football teaches us lessons when we are in difficult situations, and I think this is an opportunity for us to grow,” he said.
“We need to focus on the same shared goal. Nothing is going to change in that regard.”
Questioned about his winning mentality and the incident in the Champions League final that saw Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah suffer a shoulder injury after a tussle with Ramos, the 32-year-old grinned.
“I sleep very well at night, I have a very easy conscience,” he said.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ian Chadband