Krasnodar, Russia: Spain midfielder Isco Alarcón on Monday said the national team became all the more galvanized following the last-minute firing of former head coach Julen Loptegui after it was revealed he had negotiated a move to Real Madrid after the World Cup in Russia.
Isco spoke to the press in Krasnodar, Russia, three days after new head coach Fernando Hierro presided over his side's opening Group B game against Portugal, which ended 3-3 thanks to an impressive last-minute free-kick from Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco's habitual teammate at Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid.
The 26-year-old from Málaga said it was possible the team became more united by the shock departure of Lopetegui, who had been at the helm of the national side for two years, in which time the squad went unbeaten: "This team has a lot of heart, a lot of pride and a desire to do things well," he said. "We grow when faced by challenges, and that was one, and we moved forward, united," he added.
He pointed to Spain's performance against Portugal as evidence the side would not be swayed by happenings off the pitch.
"We played a pretty complete game, we gave them very few chances, in the end, it was a penalty and a foul that made the difference," he insisted. "Don't get me wrong, it (Lopetegui's exit) had an effect, but the drive in the team is superior to anything else."
Spain conceded an early penalty to Portugal on Friday, which was dutifully converted by Ronaldo, but La Roja responded with a shot smashed in from the penalty area by Diego Costa.
Just before half-time, Ronaldo forced an error from David De Gea with a powerful shot just outside the 18-year-box that ricocheted off the keeper's gloves and into the bottom right corner of the net. Costa again replied, chasing in a cross in the 54th minute of the match and the lead was apparently sealed by Nacho's phenomenal half-volley.
That was until Ronaldo dipped his free-kick into the top right-hand corner of De Gea's net in the 87th minute to put an end to a scintillating fixture between Group B's geographical neighbors.
Spain is gearing up for an encounter with Iran on Wednesday.