Spain have been rocked by the shock sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup but Brazil midfielder Paulinho believes the 2010 champions remain one of the favourites in Russia.
With Spain due to kick off their Group B campaign against Portugal in Sochi on Friday, Lopetegui was sensationally relieved of his duties by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) on Wednesday after agreeing to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid following the tournament.
Former Spain captain Fernando Hierro was appointed just hours after Lopetegui's dismissal.
Asked about Lopetegui's exit, Paulinho – who helped Barcelona win the 2017-18 LaLiga title and is set to come up against the Madrid-bound boss next season – told reporters: "The issue of Spain being one of the favourites here, yes definitely they have wonderful, high-level players.
"The fact they no longer have their trainer, I don't want to comment on that. A lot has been said, I don't want to stick my finger in that.
"My focus is on Brazil. But definitely Spain are one of the favourites."
The #Spain flag flutters above the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, where the 2010 #WorldCup winners will kick off their 2018 campaign on Friday without Julen Lopetegui at the helm @OmnisportNews pic.twitter.com/a12RN3LWLe— Russell Greaves (@RussGreaves) June 13, 2018
Spain are not alone on the list of favourites, with Paulinho singling out reigning champions Germany, France – spearheaded by Barcelona target Antoine Griezmann – and Belgium.
Paulinho also made mention of Brazil's South American rivals Argentina, who finished runners-up to Germany in 2014 but scrambled through to Russia thanks to Lionel Messi's hat-trick on the final matchday of qualifying.
"We have teams with high-level players. I would include Germany, France, Belgium, Spain - teams we know are doing a good job," Paulinho added. "They are some of the favourites, including Argentina. I'm sure this is going to be a very good World Cup with a lot of competition."
Tite's high-flying Brazil are also a legitimate contender in Russia as they attempt to banish the demons of 2014.
The Selecao, who suffered a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals four years ago, go up against Switzerland in Group E on Sunday amid an 11-match unbeaten streak.
Paulinho does not expect a "classic" against Switzerland but he said: "Brazil are always under pressure. What we did in the last four years is leave the past World Cups behind us. Football gives you opportunities to revert what you did."
"We are more confident [than the last World Cup]," he continued. "In 2014 whatever happened is in the past. The Brazilian squad has been experiencing a better moment."
18 de octubre 2018
|Bale back in full Real Madrid training|
|Roma supporter found not guilty of inflicting GBH on Liverpool fan Sean Cox|
|´Fantastic´ Neuer will prove he´s still the best, says Lloris|
|Perez secures Force India stay|
|Australia wait on Khawaja scan|
|Shaw signs Manchester United extension|
|Jones lays down challenge to snubbed England star Cipriani|
|West Ham´s Pellegrini rejects Dzeko speculation|
|Emery fails to assure Ramsey of Arsenal future|
|Pakistan on course for victory after Babar 99 and farcical run out|
|Canelo ready to leave comfort zone to face Fielding|
|Eriksen ready for Tottenham return, Pochettino confirms|
|Titans coach rocked by Hurrell´s Rhinos switch|
|Rubin Kazan suspended from UEFA competition for FFP breach|
|Real Madrid could sack Lopetegui if results don´t improve, says Essien|
|On-court coaching would add to drama - Mouratoglou|
|Babbel lauds ´top class´ Ronaldo after Juventus switch|
|Carmelo Anthony: Rockets bench role challenging mentally|
|Maqsood preferred to Amir in Pakistan T20 squad|
|Make Ramsey Arsenal captain, don´t let him leave – Wilshere|
|Kaneria admits guilt in spot-fixing case|
|No coach can work miracles – Ibrahimovic defends under-fire Mourinho|
|Morgan earns England recall, Cipriani overlooked|
|Reavie leads CJ Cup, solid start from Koepka|
|Juventus kicked me out to sign Ronaldo – Higuain|
|England forward Hughes given six-week ban|
|Injured Halep withdraws from WTA Finals|
|Ronaldo exit makes all the difference for Real Madrid – Luxemburgo|
|Manchester United´s Chelsea Blues and other one-sided rivalries|
|Babbel fears for Kovac´s Bayern future|
|Bradley homers again, Red Sox take 3-1 lead over Astros|
|Ayton, Doncic shine on NBA debuts|
|Leonard focusing on future after Raptors debut|
|MLS Review: Rooney stunner seals DC win, Sounders clinch play-off spot|
|Pochettino ´proud´ of Dier for Ramos tackle|
|Wallabies name three uncapped players for All Blacks clash|
|Lakers coach Walton will monitor LeBron´s minutes, plans to use deep rotation|
|Lloris: United´s Pogba unfairly judged because of transfer fee|
|´Phenomenon´ Mbappe deserves Ballon d´Or, says Buffon|
|Dodgers on cusp of World Series after beating Brewers|
|Mata braced for ´difficult month´ at Man United|
|WATCH: Rooney scores wonderful free-kick for DC United|
|Kaino handed five-week ban for striking Roberts|
|Bears star Khalil Mack ´day-to-day´ with ankle injury|
|Anthony has ´a clearer understanding´ of his role with Rockets|
|Brewers remove Miley after one batter against Dodgers|
|Rams rule out Kupp for 49ers game|
|Giants owner Mara to talk with Beckham Jr|
|Bamberg battle back to claim Champions League win|
|MLB investigated alleged Astros sign stealing, found no wrongdoing|
|Timberwolves star Wiggins to donate $22 for every point this NBA season|
|Red Sox´s Sale won´t start game five of ALCS|
|Tsitsipas and Shapovalov advance at Stockholm Open|
|Witsel to Dortmund is signing of the season - Martinez|
|Pique confident Nadal will play in 2019 Davis Cup|
17 de octubre 2018
|Seeds suffer in Moscow and Luxembourg|
|Johnstone grabs hat-trick as England ease past France|
|Pogba and Mourinho disagreement over Instagram video, confirms Pereira|
|Nuggets coach Malone signs contract extension|
|Mayweather accepts Khabib´s challenge: ´We´re fighting´|
|Slovenia sack Kavcic as head coach|
|Morgan and Rashid star as England win rain-reduced ODI in Sri Lanka|
|Romagnoli aims to make Gattuso proud in Milan derby|
|Naldo signs Schalke extension|
|Bills to start quarterback Anderson against Colts with Allen out|
|O´Sullivan makes 147 at ´hellhole´|
|Barcelona know when captain Messi is angry – Abidal|
|Bertens loss hands Pliskova last WTA Finals berth|
|Liverpool star Mane undergoes hand surgery|
|F1 Raceweek: Happy hunting ground for title-chasing Hamilton - US GP in numbers|