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Flashpoints of 2018: Julen Lopetegui sacked by Spain on eve of World Cup

Continuing our series on controversies that defined the year, the Spain manager is fired twice in 138 days, the second time by Real Madrid

The call came, a five-minute warning, and then the bombshell landed. It did so about the same time as Aeroflot flight 2501. In the long, slow queue at Sheremetyevo airport were staff from a Spanish radio station: presenters, reporters, producers, technicians, arriving in Russia to cover a World Cup they still thought Spain could win. “Julen Lopetegui’s gone to Real Madrid”, someone told them, standing there, watching the first message appear on his screen. “Nah, no way” came the reply. But their phones too flickered into life, beeping frantically, and, bloody hell, it was true. It couldn’t be – not now – but it was.

Across the city of Moscow Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Federation, had been informed by Real Madrid five minutes before they released the communique, or so he said: he was told, not asked, and he was furious. The statement, read as they stood there at Sheremetyevo, was short and to the point, venomous: Lopetegui would join after the World Cup and for the next three seasons. As it turned out, neither of those things were true, but he really was going to Madrid. The very next day, in fact: the day the World Cup began.

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