Carles Puyol: Spain’s decision to sack Julen Lopetegui must be respected

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Carles Puyol has backed federation president Luis Rubiales’ authority to fire coach Julen Lopetegui just days ahead of the World Cup, the former Spain defender told ESPN FC.

Rubiales’ decision has split opinions among the Spanish football community, with Lopetegui himself feeling very hard-done by, and Puyol’s former Barcelona and Spain teammate Xavi Hernandez among those who backed the difficult call.

Puyol, promoting his sports social networking app, Olyseum, told ESPN FC that Rubiales has to be respected for the move, and the team now can aim for a common goal of winning the tournament under Fernando Hierro.

“Those in charge have had to make decisions and they must be respected,” Puyol said. “The only thing that needs to be done now is to be united and focused on the common goal of winning the World Cup, or to go as far as possible.”

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Rubiales sacked Lopetegui on Wednesday after Real Madrid announced he would take over as coach once the World Cup ends, and Hierro was named as his replacement just 48 hours before the Group B opener against Portugal in Sochi, Russia.

Puyol, who won the World Cup with Spain in 2010, believes they still have a chance to do so again despite Lopetegui’s dismissal.

“Yes, Spain is one of the favourites, but they are not alone,” Puyol said. “For me, Brazil, Germany, France and Argentina are the ones to watch.

“I expect a few surprises from teams such as Belgium. We will see how it goes because they have great players and if they can play as a team they can make a major impact.”

Puyol also said he was impressed with how experienced players from his day, including Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta, blended with a new generation of talented youngsters.

“I believe that, above all, the Spanish team is a block,” he said. “I would not highlight any individuals, it is true that young players like Saul Niguez, Isco, Thiago Alcantara, and Marco Asensio are talented — as well as Iago Aspas, who is not so young but I think he can be an important player because he can score a lot of goals.”

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan