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Shellshocked Spain face Portugal in early World Cup treat

AFP  |  Moscow 

and clash in an early highlight of in as the Spanish camp insist they are united despite this week's extraordinary sacking of Lopetegui.

Egyptian fans, meanwhile, will hold their breath to see if prolific striker really has recovered from the he suffered in final as the Pharaohs take on

But after host nation Russia's rousing 5-0 win over in the tournament opener, the highlight of the day will be Spain's clash with Cristiano Ronaldo's European champions in Sochi.

The Spanish team had been tipped as one of the favourites to win the trophy for a second time after a two-year unbeaten run under Lopetegui.

But Wednesday's snap decision by the to dump Lopetegui, after he announced he would take over at Real post-tournament, has left the team reeling.

Former Real stalwart has been thrown into the deep end as head coach, with little coaching experience and huge pressure on his shoulders.

and Hierro put on a united front yesterday as they contemplated the opening Group B meeting against their neighbours and arch-rivals following two days of chaotic upheaval.

"There is nobody better than Fernando. He was a and has known us for a long time," said Ramos.

Real's appointment of Lopetegui could, the federation apparently feared, have opened up Spanish football's age-old faultline between the squad's and Barcelona-based players.

Ramos, who also skippers Real Madrid, insisted this week's events had not upset any relationships.

"There are no cracks. We are all individuals and we all think differently, but the collective idea is the same -- we are here to go for the World Cup," he said.

Almost 5,000 kilometres away, Lopetegui was being unveiled as the new Madrid The 51-year-old described the day he was sacked as "the saddest day of my life since the death of my mother".

Ronaldo and have enjoyed a calmer build-up but the 33-year-old reigning World of the Year knows that is probably on his last chance to win a

The Real Madrid superstar could play on for years yet, but it is difficult to imagine him leading to glory in in 2022.

- Blot on Ronaldo's career -

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A 19-year-old Ronaldo was playing the last time Portugal beat their Iberian rivals in a major tournament, winning 1-0 to eliminate in the group stage at Euro 2004.

He has gone on to become his country's leading scorer with 81 international goals in 150 appearances.

Yet one doubt hangs over him: his form in a Portugal shirt has never matched his heroics for Manchester United and Real, and his scoring record so far is poor with just three goals in three tournaments.

says Salah is "almost 100 percent certain" to start against in the Group A match in Ekaterinburg, nearly three weeks since he left the field in clutching his shoulder in agony after being wrestled to the ground by Ramos.

Friday's other Group B fixture pits Iran, coached by former Real Madrid Carlos Queiroz, against Morocco, guided by Frenchman Herve Renard.

Queiroz freely admits are the underdogs of the group but has used a decision by to halt supplies of boots to some of his players because of sanctions as a way to unite his squad.

"It has been a source of inspiration for us," Queiroz told He said "should come out and apologise because this arrogant conduct against 23 boys is absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary".

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, June 15 2018. 09:45 IST
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