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Volume 7 No. 79

World Cup

Fernando Hierro (left) will step in to coach Spain after Luis Rubiales' decision to sack Julen Lopetegui.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Julen Lopetegui was sacked as Spain's national team coach "on the eve of the World Cup," one day after agreeing to take over at Real Madrid, according to Dermot Corrigan of ESPN.com. Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales said at a press conference on Wednesday that "Lopetegui's fate was sealed just two days ahead of the team's World Cup opening game," as Rubiales "could not accept" an RFEF employee "having negotiated a move to Real Madrid after the tournament without informing his employers." The RFEF announced national team sporting director Fernando Hierro "will assume the role of coach for the tournament." Rubiales, who was elected as RFEF president last month, was in Moscow for the vote on the World Cup 2026 host country, "but he flew back to Krasnodar on Tuesday for an emergency meeting with Lopetegui." Rubiales: "The Federation cannot be left outside the negotiation of one of its employees, and find out just five minutes before a public announcement. If anybody wants to talk to one of our employees, they have to speak to us, too. That is basic, as this is the team of all Spaniards. The national team is the most important we have; the World Cup is the biggest of all. ... We had to react, I know that whatever I do, I will be criticized. I accept that. But the values of the Federation come first" (ESPN.com, 6/13). In Barcelona, Edu Polo reported Real Madrid will not have to pay Lopetegui's €2M ($2.35M) release clause after he was sacked by the RFEF. Rubiales said, "Although the economic situation for the Federation is not ideal and €2 million is a significant amount, right now this is not important; the most important thing is the national team" (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 6/13). ESPN.com's Adriana Garcia reported Michel and former Barcelona Manager Luis Enrique are reportedly the "leading candidates" to replace Lopetegui after the World Cup. Marca reported Michel, who was sacked by Málaga in January, "was the front-runner" (ESPN.com, 6/13).

Spain captain Sergio Ramos tweeted, "We are the national team, we represent a logo, colors, a fanbase, a country. The responsibility and commitment are with you all and for you all. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, together: #VamosEspaña." Gerard Piqué referred to the '88-89 Michigan Wolverines basketball team in a tweet. Michigan won the national championship that year after dismissing head coach Bill Frieder -- who was replaced by assistant Steve Fisher -- before the NCAA Tournament. Piqué: "It wouldn't be the first time that it happens. All together, now more than ever."

CRISIS MODE: ESPN.com's Corrigan & Martín wrote the "most dramatic and potentially destructive 24 hours in Spanish football history has left the national team reeling" ahead of its World Cup opener against Portugal on Friday. A "chaotic, era-defining back-and-forth took place" on Tuesday after Lopetegui announced his move to Real Madrid, setting in place a chain of events that "blew Spanish football apart." Sources said that Lopetegui called Rubiales to "tell him he was to become the next Real Madrid coach." The pair spoke for half an hour "and soon tensions flared and Rubiales hung up." Rubiales then called back "but Lopetegui did not answer the phone," leading the RFEF boss to fly to Krasnodar, the site of Spain's World Cup training base. Sources said that there were meetings early Wednesday morning that "involved players, officials and coaching staff." Players, through captain Sergio Ramos, "tried to convince Rubiales not to fire Lopetegui up until late Wednesday morning." Nobody "comes out of this mess looking good," and a Spanish team that had been among the tournament favorites "now has to deal with something" it could not have seen coming. Lopetegui took over La Roja following Euro 2016 and "guided them flawlessly through World Cup 2018 qualifying, with nine wins and one draw from their 10 games" (ESPN.com, 6/13).

EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE: In Madrid, Javier G. Matallanas reported Hierro said, "It is a nice, thrilling challenge. The circumstances are what they are and I accept this responsibility with courage. We have a good group and the excitement is big. I couldn't disappoint." Regarding possible tactical changes, he said, "We have to be intelligent and coherent and from here until the Portugal game we do not have much capacity for changes. The good thing is that I have been present at all the practices" (AS, 6/13).

INT'L REACTION: In Madrid, Edu Herrero reported the sacking of Lopetegui "has shocked the world of football" and the news echoed throughout the int'l press. Italy's Il Corriere dello Sport wrote, "Earthquake in Spain; Lopetegui, fired." The BBC wrote, "Spain, without a coach." The London Daily Mail wrote, "Civil War in Spain." Bild wrote, "Earthquake in Spain. The big favorite for the World Cup is without its coach" (AS, 6/13).

England's footballers were advised on how to protect their personal information upon arrival in Russia.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

England footballers were briefed by U.K. Government Communications HQ on "how to protect their personal information and possessions while in Russia," according to Lawton & Mokbel of the London DAILY MAIL. The squad was "given guidance on security issues including how to hide their belongings in their hotel rooms." As they touched down at their World Cup training HQ on Monday, details of the briefing -- which had a "particular emphasis on cyber security" -- were revealed. Spy bosses "stopped short" of giving them temporary "burner phones," which would be used only for their trip and then destroyed. Instead, protective software was added to the team's phones and devices, "which will only be removed on their return." Team members were also advised not to access their online bank accounts while away and to "avoid any online activity that, if made public, could embarrass them" (DAILY MAIL, 6/12).

'MAKE NO MISTAKE': REUTERS' Mark Hosenball reported U.S. National Counterintelligence & Security Center Dir William Evanina is advising Americans traveling to Russia for the World Cup that they "should not take electronic devices because they are likely to be hacked by criminals or the Russian government." Evanina warned World Cup travelers that "even if they think they are insignificant, hackers could still target them." He said, "If you're planning on taking a mobile phone, laptop, PDA or other electronic device with you -- make no mistake -- any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals" (REUTERS, 6/12).

Pierluigi Collina wants officials to keep their flags down on tight offside calls.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Fans inside the World Cup stadiums "will be shown replays of incidents requiring video assistant refereeing decisions to reduce the confusion that has reigned during trials of the technology in England and other domestic leagues," according to Martha Kelner of the London GUARDIAN. Supporters at the tournament in Russia will be "shown clips of the passage of play that was under revision but only once the referee has made his decision and play has restarted." FIFA Referees Committee Chair Pierluigi Collina said that the "problems with lengthy delays during trials had been ironed out." Collina also said that assistant referees had been "advised to keep their flag down for tight offside calls and to leave it to VAR to decide." Collina said, "If you see some assistant referee not raising the flag, it's not because he's making mistakes. It's because he's respected the instruction to keep the flag down. They were told to keep the flag down when there is a tight offside incident and there could be a very promising attack or a goal-scoring opportunity because, if the assistant referee raises the flag, then everything is finished" (London GUARDIAN, 6/12). The BBC reported the VAR -- a current or former top referee -- is "in place to check decisions on four sorts of incidents." The referee can "accept the information relayed through his earpiece by the VAR team, an option usually reserved for objective calls of fact, such as if a player is offside." For more "subjective decisions such as red cards and penalty-area fouls, he can review the footage on a pitchside television monitor before deciding whether to change his initial call" (BBC, 6/12).

STAY COOL: In London, Martyn Ziegler reported VARs will "wear an official kit as opposed to civilian dress in their Moscow control room during the World Cup because they sweat so much owing to stress." Collina said that wearing the kit would also make VARs "feel part of the game." Collina said, "The video match officials will be in front of the television sweating with the stress. It's not possible to go there like a clerk with shirt, tie and jacket. They are doing something stressful and that's why we want them wearing the dress code." FIFA Head of Refereeing Massimo Busacca said that delays to the games by use of VARs were "peanuts" when set against "the importance of getting decisions right." Busacca said, "We will not be perfect but we are looking for uniformity and consistency -- but it cannot be 100%. It will always be a human interpretation. I am convinced that the scandals of the past we will not see again" (LONDON TIMES, 6/13).

EXTRA TIME: In London, Jordan Seward reported referees at the World Cup will wear specifically-developed Hublot watches, "designed to assist them with VAR." The unique edition -- which is limited to '18 pieces and "features 32 dials inspired by the flags of the participating countries in this summer's tournament" -- will be connected to goal-line technology and an electronic video assistance system. The watch was "discreetly tested" on the wrist of referees several times during the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup last year and will be used by every referee in every game of the tournament. The application "features several notifications" and announces matches 15 minutes before their kickoff, as well as yellow and red cards, player changes and goals. It also "vibrates, displaying the word GOAL instantly every time a goal is scored" (London DAILY MAIL, 6/13).

Domino's Pizza has taken an "unusual approach" to publicizing itself as the food of choice during the World Cup, "by reflecting on retired English footballer Jimmy Bullard's failure to ever make it to the tournament," according to John McCarthy of THE DRUM. An ad campaign from the pizza brand and agency VCCP shows Bullard "performing mundane household tasks during the World Cup." Helping extend the reach of the campaign is a partnership with Sport Bible, which "will help seed the work through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as through CRM." The work ties in with wider brand motto "The Official Food of Everything," which launched in September (THE DRUM, 6/13).

'OPPO FRIEND': SOCCEREX reported Neymar signed an endorsement deal with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Oppo ahead of the World Cup. The Brazil int'l, 26, was unveiled as an "OPPO friend" and will be seen promoting the company's products during this summer's tournament in Russia (SOCCEREX, 6/13).

AMBUSH MARKETING: McCarthy also reported mobile carrier Three UK is "getting involved in the World Cup chat by rebranding a handful of stores with three cute lion emojis." Manchester Arndale, London Islington, Brighton and Portsmouth stores were rebranded with three lion emojis "to bring it in line with the England side's nickname," the Three Lions. The "clever stunt, with deniability, ties the brand to the England team without splurging for an official partnership." This marks "one of the most blatant pieces of World Cup ambush marketing" in '18 (THE DRUM, 6/13).

AFRICAN OUTREACH: EGYPT INDEPENDENT's Al-Masry Al-Youm reported the "Egypt -- Experience & Invest" campaign by the Ministry of Investment & Int'l Cooperation on Tuesday signed a contract with FIFA to become an official regional supporter of the 2018 World Cup "to promote Egypt as a global investment destination and to attract more tourists from around the world to visit." Egypt Minister of Investment & Int'l Cooperation Sahar Nasr said that the campaign "will engage with football fans both through social media and directly to showcase the wide spectrum of investment opportunities in Egypt" (EGYPT INDEPENDENT, 6/13).

'TIME ON THEIR HANDS': Int'l e-commerce company Wish developed a global marketing campaign focusing on some of the teams that will not be represented in Russia -- Italy, the Netherlands, Chile, Wales and the U.S. -- and featuring their best players -- Gianluigi Buffon, Robin van Persie, Claudio Bravo, Gareth Bale and Tim Howard. Through the series, which consists of six spots, Wish gives football fans a glimpse into the players' summer and helps them find more hobbies now that they have some "time on their hands." The videos are all connected and eventually two players who are competing in the tournament -- Paul Pogba (France) and Neymar (Brazil) -- are introduced (Wish).

VIKING FUEL: The Icelandic FA (KSÍ) signed Icelandic Provisions, which produces traditional skyr in the U.S., as its official nutrition sponsor (Icelandic Provisions).

More than 1,200 people banned from attending football matches "surrendered their passports ahead of the World Cup," the U.K. Home Office said. Of 1,312 individuals with football banning orders, 1,254 "have given up their documents before the tournament." Police said that "they will continue working to trace the remaining 58." U.K. Police Minister Nick Hurd said that the action will ensure "thugs" will not "ruin the tournament for real fans" (BBC, 6/13).

Tickets were "still unsold" for 20 matches at the World Cup "just one day before the start of the tournament, including England’s opening game against Tunisia." There were tickets available in two of the three pricing categories for England’s match against Tunisia on Monday in Volgograd, while Russia’s opening game against Saudi Arabia "only sold out" on Tuesday. FIFA insisted "the number of matches that had yet to be sold out was not a reflection of a lack of public interest in the World Cup," but a result of an extra 120,000 tickets being released only last week (LONDON TIMES, 6/13).

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Wednesday that he will run for re-election as head of FIFA. Speaking at the FIFA Congress in Moscow on the eve of the World Cup, the Swiss-Italian said that he will present his candidacy for elections taking place in Paris in June '19. Infantino: "I want another four years of it because I believe in what I do" (REUTERS, 6/13).

Global Sport Integrity Dir Mark Phillips said that professional gamblers "are avoiding betting on World Cup matches involving host nation Russia because of doubts over their integrity." Phillips: "I'm certainly worried about it. I know there are professional gamblers who are looking at these matches in Group A -- Russia, Uruguay, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- and saying we can't bet on those games, because they don't know if they're going to be completely straight" (ABC NEWS, 6/13).

A Russian comic's song which "mocks the country's World Cup team and questions the financial sense of hosting the event has gone viral" on the eve of the tournament, "angering some fans and politicians." Written and performed by Semyon Slepakov, "Ole Ole Ole" imagines Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, as the Russian football team's "new but unsuccessful manager." It has been viewed more than 5 million times on YouTube (REUTERS, 6/13).

The Brazilian government "has prepared the country’s power grid to deal with the wild swings in demand for electricity" as most people in the country "tune out everything except their televisions" to watch the national team play in the World Cup. When Brazil plays in the World Cup, power demand "falls sharply close to the start of the games, then surges during halftime breaks as people rush to grab a drink in the refrigerator or make microwave-popcorn." As play resumes, power demand "falls sharply again" (REUTERS, 6/12).