Sevilla's Lopetegui not haunted by World Cup memories on Krasnodar return


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Group E - Sevilla v Stade Rennes - Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville, Spain - October 28, 2020 Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui during the match REUTERS/Marcelo Del Pozo

KRASNODAR, Russia (Reuters) - Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui said he was not thinking about his shock sacking as Spain coach on the eve of the last World Cup after arriving in Russia ahead of his side's Champions League Group E clash against Krasnodar on Tuesday.

The Krasnodar stadium and training base was the scene of what Lopetegui would later call the worst day of his life, when he was dismissed two days before Spain's World Cup opener against Portugal due to negotiating a move to Real Madrid.

But he said he was not haunted by the memory of the sacking when his Sevilla side were drawn in the same group as Krasnodar or when he returned to the club's facilities on Monday.

"The moment I learned we had been drawn with Krasnodar my only focus was on studying our opponents, like I would do with any other team," said Lopetegui, sitting in the same press room where Spanish soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales announced his sacking in 2018.

"We know the facilities here well, they are world class, but the only sentiment I'm feeling now is excitement and respect for playing against a side like Krasnodar," he added.

Lopetegui's spell at Madrid also proved ill-fated and he was sacked less than three months into the job after losing 5-1 to Barcelona, spending the rest of the season unemployed.

But the Spaniard has revived his reputation with Sevilla, guiding the team back into the Champions League after a two-year absence before lifting the Europa League trophy in August.

His side have made a strong start to Group E, sitting second and level on seven points with leaders Chelsea, and victory could seal the Spaniards' place in the last 16.

Sevilla came from 2-0 down to beat Krasnodar 3-2 at home earlier this month after having Jesus Navas sent off, but Lopetegui expects a tougher game in Russia.

"They (Krasnodar) had us against the ropes then and now they are recovering players and it's going to be much harder," he said. "They are one of the best teams in Russia, they will force us to be at our best."

Sevilla will be without the suspended Navas plus goalkeeper Bono and forward Carlos Fernandez after the pair tested positive for COVID-19.

(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris)

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