If one imagined that the early exits of Germany, Portugal and Argentina were going to be the big upsets of the tournament, the Russian national side proved that there was still one major shock to play out. In a game filled with tension the 70th-ranked Russian side that was easily demolished by Uruguay were expected to submit to Spain, a side stacked with La Liga talent and World Cup winning experience, that is ranked at number 10.
Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev didn’t see things the same way. After having made nine saves on goal he went on to make the game-winning saves against Koke and Iago Aspas in the nail-biting penalty shootout finish which ended 4-3 in Russia’s favour. Spain will rue Koke’s choké as they had been expected to move on to the quarter-finals with ease against Russia.
Russia were able to convert all of their penalties calmly with goalkeeper David de Gea unable to save any of the attempts. During regular time de Gea only had to contend with one shot on goal made by the Russians in what was an uninspired attack that was balanced by their attritional defence. If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that the Russians know how to play defence on home soil.
The Spanish will be wondering where it all went wrong for them having started so well in constantly probing within the Russian half. It paid off initially having had an own goal scored in their favour by Sergei Ignashevich as the ball deflected off his leg as he dived in the box alongside Sergio Ramos.
The turning point in the game however came when a penalty was awarded for a Gerard Pique handball which Artem Dzyuba converted easily to equalise. Russia now knew they were in with a chance given the 78,000-strong crowd in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium were totally behind the team and cheered on the team as they held back the Spanish Armada attack after attack.
The Spanish supporters will also claim that a penalty should have been awarded as two Spanish forwards were taken down in the final minutes of regular time. On having the footage reviewed by VAR the officials believed that it wasn’t enough to warrant a penalty; a decision–in light of the final result– which will be the source of vigorous bar debates during this World Cup.
But the truth is Spain ought to have outplayed Russian during the key set-pieces of the game, particularly as regular time ended and the two eventless halves of extra time played out. When it was finally time for the penalty shootout it turned out to be anyone’s game. Though having seen how captain Akinfeev had calmly handled himself during the game, many would have given Russia the upper hand in the final shootout.
Russia have played the game of their lives and they will play either Croatia or Denmark in the quarter-finals. Their game today was a dream come true. After a stunning upset win against Spain, Russia can now allow themselves to dream just a little longer.