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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Hierro wary of Morocco

Spain relief: Spanish head coach Fernando Hierro and midfielder Saul shares a light moment in training ahead of this evening's Group B clash with Morocco in Kaliningrad
Spain relief: Spanish head coach Fernando Hierro and midfielder Saul shares a light moment in training ahead of this evening's Group B clash with Morocco in Kaliningrad

Spain coach Fernando Hierro insists his side can take nothing for granted when they face Morocco in the World Cup this evening - even though their opponents have already been eliminated.

After a topsy-turvy 3-3 draw with Portugal in their opening Group B game, Spain pulled off a narrow 1-0 win over Iran.

Hierro, who took over on the eve of the finals following the sacking of Real Madrid-bound manager Julen Lopetegui, has all but guided the 2010 World Cup winners into the knockout stages.

A surprise defeat to Morocco could yet see them eliminated and the former Spain captain is keen for focus to remain in place in Kaliningrad.

Qualities

"Our obligation is to play a good game, to get three points and if we can be at the head of the group -even better," he said.

"We know it is going to be a tough match, always when you play against teams who are eliminated you don't know what they are going to do - it could be a big surprise.

"We can't take anything for granted, we have to use our skills and our qualities and that is what is most important going into the match.

"We know that Morocco are an excellent team, they reached the finals of a World Cup after not being here for many years.

"They lost their first match in the last minute with an own goal and had an excellent game against Portugal - we are talking about a tough nut to crack.

"If you have qualified for a World Cup we know they are going to be a tough rival, sometimes people may relax in their third match but we can't afford that, we have to be very much awake and with our eyes open."

Morocco are out having already lost to both Iran and Portugal in their opening two Group B matches.

Both Iran and Portugal picked up narrow 1-0 wins over the African outfit and, while he knows his players will be heading home after the match, coach Herve Renard wants a positive performance.

"We have to force ourselves to find something to fight for so we can compete in the best possible psychological condition," he said. "The most difficult thing is to play these kinds of matches knowing that we will have to pack and go home and leave the competition.

"When you are not up to the job it is easier to accept but as I have said before we have to be professional and, in particular, we are going to play a team for which we need to be fit from a psychological view or it will be difficult to play against Spain otherwise."

Meanwhile, Spain midfielder Saul broke his silence on the dramatic sacking of coach Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup as the Atletico Madrid man openly criticised the decision.

The common line from Spain's players since Lopetegui was sacked by Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales for negotiating a move to Real Madrid behind his back was that they have accepted the move, while admitting it was far from ideal for their campaign.

Motives

But Saul, who has known Lopetegui since he was his coach in the Spain under-19 team, broke ranks in an interview with Spanish state television, saying the players should have been given a say in the seismic decision. "It was surprising and I think that even though there were motives and reasons behind the decision, the players had no say in it and it was not the right time," Saul said.

"Julen deserved to stay in charge after two years of preparing for the World Cup with us. Of course it has affected us, two days before (the tournament started) and they change your coach, it has really affected us. But we have tried to stay strong."

Hierro insisted he had no problem with Saul's comments. "It's logical, healthy, natural and what everyone is thinking," he said.

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