The lowest ranked side at this year’s World Cup battled their way to the quarter-finals at the Luzhniki Stadium. Russia survived 120 minutes of Spanish tika-taka to win 4-2 penalties, with keeper Igor Akinfeev saving from Koke and Iago Aspas, leaving the hosts ‘singing in the rain’ tonight.
The atmosphere was at ‘fever pitch’ in Moscow with the hosts exceeding expectations so far in this whirlwind of a World Cup.
But that was silenced by more dubious defending by Sergei Ignasevich which proved costly. Marco Asensio’s free kick was delivered to the back post where Sergio Ramos was entangled with the centre half, the ball struck the unfortunate defender and found the net.
The 10th own goal in Russia had dampened the excitable home crowd, Spain took advantage and coasted through possession for the majority of the first half.
Then after endless circles of passing between red shirts, an attempt from Alexandr Golvoin that drifted wide, lifted the crowd and the spirits of the Russian team.
It got a bit better on 41 minutes when Gerard Pique’s flailing arm blocked Dzyuba’s header, Bjorn Kuipers said penalty. The gigantic, lanky forward has become a loveable figure of this World Cup for his no-nonsense, aggressive but effective approach. He was calm on this occasion, converting from the spot, game on.
Diego Costa was a tireless runner in the first half but surprisingly starved of service as Fernando Hierro’s side lacked the killer through ball, playing very safe.
They needed to up their game, the second half proved cagey with Russia sensing their counter attack strategy could yet succeed. Costa did find Isco in the penalty area with a clever reverse ball but the effort was blocked, frustration was growing.
The resilient Russians stood firm against a lacklustre Spanish outfit despite the introduction of Andres Iniesta, extra-time arrived for the first time this year.
It was tireless defending from Russia with substitute Rodrigo coming closest for Spaniards with a good run down the right, but Igor Akinfeev was equal to it. The referee had a VAR review to handle when Gerard Pique looked to have been dragged down in the area, nothing given. We headed to penalties.
The hosts proved calmest under pressure and following Akinfeev’s saves to deny Koke and decisively, Iago Aspas, it was delirious celebrations for Russia. Andres Iniesta sadly bid farewell to international football in the pain of a shoot-out defeat, Russia move on to face Croatia or Denmark, the script of Russia 2018 gets torn up once more.