Knives out for Aragones after Northern Ireland defeat

September 7, 2006

MADRID, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Spanish media rounded on Luis Aragones and called for his resignation as national team coach after his side slumped to a 3-2 defeat against Northern Ireland in a Euro 2008 qualifier in Belfast.

"Spain made fools of themselves against Northern Ireland and yet Luis is still not thinking of resigning," said daily newspaper El Mundo on its front page on Thursday.

"Complete disaster" said El Pais, while influential sports daily Marca who had pressed for Aragones's appointment before he took charge two years ago turned on the 68-year-old and said he should now throw in the towel.

"After the fiasco at the World Cup, his unmerited contract extension and the prospects of his present project, the best thing he can do is to resign," said Marca in its match report.

Several papers compared the loss to the 3-2 defeat against Cyprus in a Euro 2000 qualifier in 1998 that prompted Javier Clemente to resign as Spain coach.

Before the World Cup Aragones said he would resign if his side did not reach the quarter-finals, but he went back on his decision after they were eliminated by France in the first knockout round.

He has kept faith with the same players and same 4-3-3 system that he used at the World Cup and rejected calls to introduce new blood into the team.

On Wednesday, he watched in silence from the sidelines as his side twice surrendered the lead to a Northern Ireland side who had lost 3-0 to Iceland in their previous qualifier on Saturday.

Out-fought and out-thought by Lawrie Sanchez's modest team, Spain appeared unable to cope with their direct, route one-style football and succumbed to a hat-trick from Leeds United striker David Healy.

Aragones accepted he was to blame for the defeat, but said he was not contemplating resigning.

"The main responsibility lies with the coach, I didn't adopt the right tactics," he said after the match.

"Spain are a better side than our opponents, but they have dealt us a severe blow that has made qualification for Euro 2008 more difficult.

"But I'm not thinking about giving up the post. I'm happy in the job and keen to continue, just as I was when I decided to continue after the World Cup.

"I'm not going to resign, but they (the Spanish Federation) can take whatever measures they want to."

Spain's defeat left them in fifth place in Group F with three points from two games, three behind group leaders Sweden. The two teams meet in Sweden in the next qualifier on Oct. 7.