Why Russia were too strong for dominant Spain

Virginia Santiago
July 4, 2018

Dzyuba forced a penalty and scored from the spot to keep Russian Federation in the game after falling behind 1-0 Sunday, then roared on his teammates as they kept the 120-minute match deadlocked and won the penalty shootout 4-3 against heavily favored Spain.

Russian Federation hit back against the run of play when Gerard Pique needlessly stuck his hand in the air and handled an Artem Dzyuba header. "One hero, for sure, is Akinfeev, who saved two of Spain's five penalties", states The New York Times.

Just to emphasise how pointless Spain's dominance of the ball was, this statistic said it all - they completed 400 passes in that first 45, but they had all of four touches inside the Russian Federation penalty area.

Russian Federation played a tactical game in Sunday's Round of 16 match, converting a penalty to take a 1-1 draw into extra time.

Akinfeev's penalty heroics led goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel to say that the Russian Federation 'keeper "deserves a statue" in his honor.

Spain took the lead on 12 minutes when Marco Asensio's free-kick into the penalty area was diverted into his own net by the heel of Sergey Ignashevich as he grappled with Sergio Ramos. Koke saw his effort saved by Igor Akinfeev, before Iago Aspas's unsuccessful spot kick sent the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow into delirium.

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Croatia will next face host Russian Federation in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Sochi. During that game, injury-prone center half Vincent Kompany went on in the second half for his first game since injuring his groin on June 2. The 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder came off the bench and nearly won the game with an 85th-minute shot well saved by Akinfeev.

Spain deserved more from the 120 minutes.

La Roja have endured a tumultuous World Cup campaign which started off with the sacking of their manager, Julen Lopetegui, only two days before the tournament was underway.

Between them, they have scored six of Russia's eight goals and produced three assists.

Akinfeev claimed Pique's header and pushed away a Rodrigo Moreno shot in extra-time, while the introduction of Aleksandr Erokhin as Russia's fourth substitute made World Cup history.

The 120 minutes of football in this match will, in the future, be prescribed as the flawless medicine for insomniacs, with Spain having pretty much all of the ball, but with no end product.

Spain's Iago Aspas thought he scored before Russian Federation keeper's brilliant kick save
It was the classic "tiki-taka" style that led to a World Cup title in 2010, bookended by a pair of European Championships. Spain had 25 shots, nine of which were on frame, but Akinfeev saved them all, only conceded on an unfortunate own goal.

Dzyuba himself stepped up and sent David De Gea the wrong way.

Aspas almost picked out Carvajal with a cut-back, seconds into the start of extra time, which saw Aleksandr Erokhin come on as Russia's fourth sub - the first time the rule has been applied at the World Cup.

Russia's defence-first approach echoed the Iceland team which beat England at EURO 2016 or the Greeks who won the European title in 2004.

Spain won a first World Cup in 2010, before then they had never got beyond the quarter-finals. As a result, the fate of the tie was decided in penalty shootout, where the bad beats Koke and ASPAs cost "red fury" places in the quarterfinals.

Russia - Akinfeev 7, Fernandes 5, Kudryashov 7, Kutepov 7, Ignashevich 7, Zhirkov 5, Samedov 6, Kuzyaev 5, Golovin 6, Zobnin 5, Dzyuba 6.

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