Spain have made the remarkable decision to part ways with manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the FIFA World Cup.
The news was confirmed in a press conference on Wednesday by the Royal Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales, a day after it was revealed by Real Madrid that Lopetegui would be taking over as manager next season, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:
According to Jesus Burgos of Sport, Real Madrid won't have to pay a €2 million release clause as a result of Spain's move.
While Spain felt a change of leadership was necessary, this development couldn't have come at a worse time.
On Thursday, Russia meet Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the World Cup, and on Friday, Spain face a crucial clash with rivals Portugal in Group B.
"I am very sad, but wishing that we have a magnificent World Cup and that we win," Lopetegui told reporters. "We have a magnificent team and I hope that we win the World Cup."
Corrigan relayed more quotes from Rubiales:
Additionally, he also confirmed the players sought to save the coach, although the decision had already been made, per Football Espana:
As noted by the Guardian's Nick Miller, a decision to axe a coach so close to a World Cup is an unprecedented decision:
In a surprise move, it was confirmed by the European champions that Lopetegui would be the man to succeed Zinedine Zidane following the Frenchman's decision to step down at the end of the campaign.
Lopetegui took over as the Spain boss following their quarter-final elimination from the UEFA European Championship in 2016, having previously been in charge of Porto and La Roja's under-21 side.
The 51-year-old was able to steer the 2010 world champions into the 2018 finals with ease, and some impressive results ahead of the tournament led many to tip them for success. Spain beat Argentina 6-1 in a friendly in March in a huge show of strength.
However, the turmoil in the lead up to the showpiece in Russia will cast doubts over how successful they can be at the tournament, as noted by broadcaster Georgie Bingham:
It'll be intriguing to see where Spain go from here. While they have a squad to rival any, Hierro will be working with a group he hasn't picked, and it is sure to pose some problems.
The nation will be hoping the leaders within the squad can lead them to success regardless. In Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, Spain have big personalities and winners aplenty in their group.
This is an unprecedented situation, though, and it's difficult to see how this saga won't have a negative impact on La Roja.