Shot-shy Spain's World Cup dream is over as they go out to Russia on penalties

Spain found it tough to break down a stubborn, organised Russian backline and ultimately paid the price for their lack of cutting edge in the final third

La selección española se marchó eliminada en los penlatis
La selección española se marchó eliminada en los penlatis | EFE

Russia entered the World Cup as the lowest rated team but are now marching onto the quarter finals as their dream continues. They saw off an equally poor Spain side on penalties after 120 minutes of pretty much nothing.

Andrew Gaffney


Mundial Rusia'18





De Gea, Nacho (Carvajal, 70), Piqué, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Koke, Silva (Iniesta, 66'), Isco, Asensio (Rrodrigo, 103') y Costa (Aspas, 79')


Akinfeev, Mario Fernandes, Ignashevich, Kutepov, Kudriashov, Zhirkov (Granat, 45'), Kuziaev (Erokhin, 97'), Zobnin, Golovin, Samedov (Cheryshev, 61'); y Dziuba (Smolov, 65').


1-0, Ignashevich, en propia puerta (11'); 1-1, Zyuba, de penalti, (40').Penaltis: 1-0, Iniesta; 1-1, Smolov, 2-1, Piqué; 2-2, Ignashevic; Akinfeev para a Koke; 2-3, Golovin; 3-3, Ramos; 3-4, Cheryshev; Aspas, al poste


Bjorn Kuipers (Holanda). TA: Piqué (40') / Kutepov (54'), Zobnin (71')


Luzhniki Stadium, 78.011 espectadores

After yesterday’s thrilling matches it was always going to be asking too much of the universe to provide us with yet more excitement the following day. Just like the French and Uruguayan supporters, football was suffering from a hangover and as such, this meant Spain versus Russia wasn't going to be pretty, like a leftover pizza you've found underneath your dirty socks. It might seem like a good idea at first but you know it isn't.

Don Andres Iniesta was dropped or rested, depending on which side of the fence you sit on, but the bottom line is he didn’t start the match. Fernando Hierro has been told all week that he was "too safe" and would be afraid to make radical changes. So naturally he rolled the dice and added Marco Asensio to the mix as well as giving Nacho Fernando another chance to impress at right back.

The only change that wasn’t a surprise saw Koke replace Thiago Alcantara in order to shore up the midfield alongside Sergio Busquets. Spain knew how Russia were going to set up: sit deep, look to frustrate and capitalise on any errors Spain made.

It only took ten minutes before Spain found their way through the strong, organised Russian backline. Nacho was taken out rather harshly down the right side of the penalty area but the referee kept his cards in his pocket. Asensio swung in a ball to the back post and Sergio Ramos volleyed home. At least, it looked like it was Ramos’ goal – and he celebrated like it was his – but it was in fact an own goal.

Those watching in Spain who hoped that their country would now go on to punish a clearly hurt Russia clearly hadn’t remembered the performances of the group stages. Spain are like a cat which has caught a mouse but hasn’t killed it yet. They toy with the opposition, poking and prodding, almost as if consumed by sheer arrogance with the odds being in their favour. But, like with cats, sometimes the mouse can get away.

Russia got a corner and from that a headed attempt towards goal hit Gerard Pique’s arm. The Barcelona man protested his innocence but when you leave your arm so high, in an unnatural position, you aren’t going to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Dzyuba stepped up to send De Gea the wrong way and bring the hosts level. Remember, Spain have lost every single knockout match they’d had against the host nation at the World Cup.

It was Russia who looked to change things at the game trundled along at snail’s pace. Denis Cheryshev, going into the match as the host’s top goalscorer at the competition, replaced Samedov. They then took off scorer Dzyuba, so the brief optimism of an open game quickly evaporated.

Hierro turned to the man he rested, Iniesta, and the outgoing Barcelona captain replaced David Silva with just over 20 minutes to go. He then swapped Carvajal for Nacho. Come on Fernando, think outside the box a little. You don’t need to change your full backs when you’re drawing 1-1. Although later we saw Nacho had ice around his knee. I take it back, Fernando.

Then Iago Aspas came on but not so Spain could pin Russia even deeper into their own box with two strikers but in place of Diego Costa. That’s it, Fernando. We've got a problem here.

The game rumbled on to extra time much to the delight of everyone in attendance and watching around the world.

Rodrigo Moreno became Spain’s fourth sub and he almost won it. A rare counterattack by Spain saw him turn his marker and run onto the ball with space to attack. He cut inside and unleashed his country’s best effort of the match – in the 109th minute – but Russia’s keeper, Akinfeev, was equal to it.

Spain felt they deserved a penalty – and they had a good case for one – when Pique and Ramos were dragged back by their markers inside the box. The referee said no but was then pressured into consulting VAR. They had a good look and backed the official. Hands up if that reminded you of Spain’s match against South Korea in 2002. Penalties it is.

This is where players become heroes or villains. It’s cruel if you lose, joyous if you win. Iniesta and Pique made no mistake from the spot but the Russians matched them. Up stepped Koke but his effort was saved. Spain needed De Gea to make himself the hero, after facing so much criticism, but he couldn’t do it. Ramos scored but it was Aspas who stepped up last and missed.

Spain’s World Cup campaign started dramatically and ended the same way. There were no heroes, only villains. Sadly the ones who should shoulder the most blame weren’t even in Russia. Back to the drawing board for Spain and surely this is adios to Hierro. It wasn’t a position of his making but the task is clearly beyond his capabilities.


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