The World Cup is over for Barcelona stars Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and legend Andrés Iniesta as Spain said goodbye to the tournaments at the hands of hosts Russia, who played a fantastic defensive match for 120 minutes and beat La Roja on penalties to move on and face either Croatia or Denmark in the quarterfinals.
Spain lined up to atack, Russia lined up to defend, and that’s exactly what we got in the opening stages of the game. La Roja had plenty of possession and all 10 outfield players in Russia’s half, looking to quickly move the ball from side to side and try to find spaces inside the Russians’ back five. An early goal would help Spain’s cause a lot, and they got it after just 10 minutes when Marco Asensio’s cross hit Sergei Ignashevich’s heel and went in for an own goal.
The plan had to change for Russia as they needed to equalize, but they decided to stay compact in defense for a few more minutes to avoid a second and then try and hurt the Spanish if they made any mistakes. Spain are expert in keeping possession so they had no problems in doing it for as long as they wanted without giving Russia any chances, so we had quite a boring 25-minute stretch after the opening goal.
Then Russia woke up, and Spain quickly regretted just passing the ball and not really going for a second goal when Gerard Piqué gave away a dumb penalty by raising his arm to stop a header in the box. Artem Dzyuba easily scored the penalty and Russia equalized just before halftime. Spain tried to pick up the pace in the final minutes, but Russia held on to the result and we went into the halftime interval with what felt like a wide open game.
Spain were expected to increase their pressure and pass the ball quicker. They did neither, and for 20 minutes we saw exactly the same pattern of play as the first half, with Spain passing without real purpose and Russia quite comfortable in their defensive shape. Andrés Iniesta came on looking to give his team a more incisive passing option in the final third, but La Roja were still struggling to find spaces inside a very well organized Russian defense.
Fernando Hierro made one final substitution, with Iago Aspas coming on with 10 minutes to trying to give the Russian backline a different problem than Diego Costa, and it worked as the Celta Vigo striker created two very good chances thanks to his movement in behind and his ability to link up with the Spanish midfield. As well as Aspas played, however, there was not enough time to find a winner in regulation and we moved on to extra-time.
The first half of extra-time managed to be more boring than the second half of regulation, which didn’t seem possible. The second half was a little more fun, with a big chance for Dani Carvajal blocked on the line, a possible penalty for Spain not given even though VAR had a quick look at it, a shot by Rodrigo that was saved by Akinfeev. No goals were scored in the 30 additional minutes of football, so we went to penalties.
Iniesta and Piqué scored the first two penalties for Spain, but Koke and Iago Aspas had their penalties stopped by Akinfeev. Russia scored all four of their penalties and are going through. Incredible stuff.
Spain: De Gea; Nacho (Carvajal), Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Koke, Busquets; Asensio (Rodrigo), Silva (Iniesta), Isco; Costa (Aspas)
Goal: Ignashevich (O.G. 11’)
Russia: Akinfeev; Fernandes, Kutepov, Ignashevich, Kudryashov, Zhirkov (Granat); Samedov (Cheryshev), Kuzyaev (Erokhin), Zobnin, Golovin; Dzyuba (Smolov)
Goal: Dzyuba (41’)