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."
|´Mentally strong´ Salah will overcome World Cup disappointment, says Mane|
|Pekerman contemplating unleashing James and Quintero together|
|Schmidt hopes Australia furnace will produce Ireland diamonds|
|I´m missing practice, but it´s OK - Federer ready for Coric|
|Spain v Morocco: Alba makes case for the defence|
|Team-man Lukaku firmly in the race for individual prize|
|Belgium 5 Tunisia 2: Lukaku and Hazard shine as Red Devils run riot|
|Leaked England team gives Panama no advantage, insists Gomez|
|Mane and Senegal holding no fear for Japan|
|Murray to meet Wawrinka at Eastbourne|
|Nigeria goalkeeper Ikeme in remission after year-long cancer battle|
|Lukaku breaks Belgium record against Tunisia|
|Iran v Portugal: Team Melli bullish over qualification chances|
|Mauresmo to be France´s first female Davis Cup captain|
|Maradona angry at Argentina World Cup performances|
|Ireland cap stunning season with series win over Wallabies|
|Uruguay v Russia: Selection posers for already-qualified pair|
|Federer scraps his way to yet another Halle final|
|Lunin rejected ´3,000 offers´ to join Real Madrid|
|On your bike! Iceland physio sent home after cycling accident|
|Not just Real Madrid interested in Fekir, says Aulas|
|France frustrated by officials again as All Blacks complete sweep in style|
|Jose Enrique reveals brain tumour surgery|
|The referee was a disaster, fumes Matic|
|Lakmal to captain Sri Lanka in Chandimal´s absence|
|Alli back in England training|
|McIlroy, Watson plotting moves as Harman leads Travelers Championship|
|Tearful Neymar is a joyful boy, says Jesus|
|Ruiz: Coutinho has the same quality as Neymar|
|Kovacic announces intention to leave Real Madrid|
|Red Sox edge Mariners in 34-hit extravaganza|
|Marquez asks Mexico fans to ´let them rest´|
|Fabregas hopeful of Spain recall|
|Milinkovic-Savic plays down Juventus speculation|
|Rashford inspired by Ronaldo|
|Messi is not a leader, he is no Ronaldo, claims Petit|
|Better than Ballack? Hodgson backs Loftus-Cheek to shine against Panama|
|Svitolina and Garcia suffer upsets|
|Walker responds to Ferdinand criticism|
|Djokovic still hungry for more after reaching major milestone|
|Ellis drop goal earns Castleford dramatic win|
|Nigeria hero Musa unsure on Leicester City future|
|X marks the spot - Granit´s rocket sets World Cup first|
|Xhaka and Shaqiri follow the script as Serbia are derailed|
|Chandimal appeal against ban rejected|
|Real Madrid sign teenage goalkeeper Lunin|
|Serbia 1 Switzerland 2: Shaqiri strikes late to clinch crucial comeback victory|
|Suspended Srna joins Serie A side Cagliari|
|Cilic sets up Kyrgios showdown as Djokovic reaches milestone|
|Kudla up next in Federer´s Halle ´fight´|
|Assistant Farbrace to take charge of England for T20 games|
|Hummels hoping to be fit for Sweden clash|
|Hend surges clear as Fleetwood struggles again in Pulheim|
|Giant-killers Mexico embrace sudden weight of expectation|
|Roma complete €17.25m Kluivert deal|
|Pakistan name strong group for Zimbabwe tour|
|Choc Horror: Boullier insists McLaren do not hand out Freddos as bonuses|
|Neymar: Not everyone knows what I went through|
|Poland v Colombia: No time to dwell on regrets, warns Aguilar|
|Musa shows Messi how it´s done to set up critical Argentina showdown|
|Nigeria 2 Iceland 0: Musa brace boosts Super Eagles & Argentina|
|McLaren and Renault open to Ricciardo talks|
|We must win, we have no other choice - Maaloul|
|Germany will respond against Sweden, insists Low|
|´The best among all Asians´, South Korea trust in Son against Mexico|
|Stalin´s bunker an unlikely site for Russia´s World Cup charm offensive|
|England v Panama: Rashford tipped to start as Southgate´s side aim for last 16|
|Erasmus wary of ´wonderful´ Cipriani|
|Hummels to miss Germany-Sweden, confirms Low|
|Murray accepts Eastbourne wildcard|