World Cup Diary: The weird and the wonderful from the global showpiece in Russia

Spain sacked coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before the team's opening game against Portugal at the World Cup, Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales confirmed on June 13, 2018.
Spain sacked coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before the team's opening game against Portugal at the World Cup, Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales confirmed on June 13, 2018.
Image: Gabriel Bouys / AFP

The World Cup is only set to kick-off on Thursday‚ but already there is a coach that has been sacked!

TimesLIVE brings you news from Spain‚ Egypt‚ England and Morocco‚ among others‚ in today’s World Cup diary.


RUSSIAN ROULETTE

In a case of shooting themselves in the foot that would make even SAFA proud‚ Spain have sacked their coach Julen Lopetegui just two days before the start of the World Cup.

Spanish football bosses were angered that Lopetegui had accepted the role of Real Madrid coach for next season‚ replacing Zinedine Zidane who resigned last month.

“We have been forced to dispense with the national coach. We wish him the greatest of luck‚” Spanish Football Association president Luis Rubiales said.

“The negotiations have occurred without any information to the Spanish FA and we were informed just five minutes before the press release.

"There’s a way to act that needs to be fulfilled.”

Whatever their feeling of being betrayed‚ to dispense with the coach just 48 hours before the start of the World Cup seems extreme.

“We had to react‚ I know that whatever I do I will be criticised‚ I accept that‚” Rubiales said‚ adding they had not decided who will led the team in Russia.

“We are going to touch as little as possible. We are working on it.

"When we know we will tell you. I have spoken with the players and I can guarantee they will do everything‚ along with the new coach‚ to take the team as far as possible.”

SALAH DRESSING

Never let it be said that the Russians will miss the opportunity for some good old propaganda.

When the Egypt squad turned up for training in Grozny with some 8‚000 locals in attendance‚ the leader of Chechnya‚ a republic within Russia‚ Ramzan Kadyrov‚ was not best pleased that Mo Salah was not part of the players being put through their paces.

Liverpool star Salah is recovering from a shoulder injury and so is not yet taking part in full training ahead of Egypt’s opening fixture against Uruguay on Friday.

He was in fact back at the team hotel sleeping‚ but Kadyrov would not be denied his opportunity and went to the team base to collect him.

A groggy-looking Salah was then paraded around the stadium next to Kadyrov‚ who even put his injured shoulder to the test by lifting the Egyptians arms in boxing style celebration!

BABY BOOMERS

Many people assume that Paris St Germain and France starlet Kylian Mbappe will be the youngest participant at the 2018 World Cup at 19 years and five months.

But there is a player who is actually 15 days younger than him‚ Australia’s attacking midfielder Daniel Arzani‚ who will be the youngest star in Russia.

Arzani plays for Manchester City’s satellite club Melbourne City and big things are expected of him in the coming years.

He is some way older though‚ by two years and four months‚ than the record holder as the youngest player to feature at the global showpiece.

Northern Ireland and Manchester United midfielder Norman Whiteside was just 17 years‚ one month and 10 days when he played in Spain in 1982.

BREAKING A FAST

Four of the five African teams competing at the World Cup have been hindered‚ to some extent‚ in their preparations as players fast for Ramadan and see a natural lowering from their physical peak.

Egypt‚ Tunisia‚ Morocco and to some extent Senegal have had players observing the holy month‚ which is scheduled to end on Thursday.

There is no doubt that it has an effect on the players‚ who are expected to not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset‚ yet have had training and matches to contend with.

But coaches involved have tried to tap-dance around the subject‚ with Morocco’s Herve Renard suggesting he "did not want to deal with it‚ deliberately‚ because it is a sensitive subject".

Egypt’s Hector Cuper admitted that it had affected his players in the build-up to the tournament‚ but would also not speak to the religious side.

Interesting‚ Ehypt forward Mo Salah had chosen not to fast ahead of the UEFA Champions League final for Liverpool against Real Madrid.

A Kuwaiti sheik later said that the shoulder injury he had received in the decider that threatens his World Cup participation was "divine punishment".

RASH CHALLENGE

Marcus Rashford has been in excellent form for England in the build-up to the World Cup‚ but the Manchester United striker faces being KO’d before the finals have begun.

Rashford‚ who is likely to be an impact player of the bench to compliment lead forward and team captain Harry Kane‚ will have his injury assessed as the team arrived in Russia on Wednesday.

“Marcus took a slight knock‚ but nothing too serious‚” England coach Gareth Southgate said.

“We’ll look at that ahead of tomorrow’s session.”

England open their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday.

- TimesLIVE

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