In the third match of the 2018 World Cup Round of 16, the hosts will be back in action as Russia tries to pull off an upset against Group B winners Spain. Russia looked excellent in their group until they came up against a frightening Uruguay and lost 3-0. Meanwhile, Spain only managed one win in their group against Iran but looked excellent in their 3-3 draw with Portugal and overall tough-to-beat against Morocco. Despite the bigger names on Spain’s team sheet, it’s anyone’s game.
If Russia choose to close up shop and hit Spain on the counter, then they may have a path to a result with their pacey and creative attacking players like Cheryshev and Golovin. Like many big teams, Spain normally have trouble scoring against a parked bus since they will have far less space to move the ball and make runs.
However, Russia will still have a big task ahead of them if they do decide to play on the defensive side for a majority of the match. If Spain shore up their backline issues and plan to defend the counter, then Russia will see their goal-scoring chances severely limited by this conservative play style.
In this case, it may be worth it for Russia to play a mix between parking the bus and taking the game to their opponents. Russia have frequently led the “distance covered” charts at the World Cup. To succeed, they will need to put those legs to good use and run their socks off against Spain.
A direct style when they have the ball will allow Russia to possibly catch Spain off guard when they win possession, while sitting deeper without the ball will frustrate the Spaniards on the attack. Depending on where Spain are with the ball, Russia could even implement a strong press to use their energy to win the ball back quickly and limit Spain’s chances on the attack, even if they have the lion’s share of possession.
Russia will be without Igor Smolnikov due to his red card in the last game of Group A against Uruguay. Spain will have a full squad to choose from.
Possible Spain Lineup: de Gea; Alba, Pique, Ramos, Carvajal; Thiago, Busquets, Iniesta, Isco, Silva; Costa
Possible Russia Lineup: Akinfeev; Zhirkov, Ignashevich, Kutepov, Fernandes; Gazinskiy, Zobnin; Samedov, Golovin, Cheryshev; Dzyuba
Head-to-Head and Other Statistics
• This is the seventh meeting between these sides since the Soviet Union broke up like a bad relationship. Since then, Russia have not beaten Spain (D2, L4).
• Their most recent meeting was a 3-3 draw in a friendly in November 2017.
• Spain are unbeaten in their last 23 matches, stretching back to EURO 2016.
• This is Russia’s first World Cup knockout game since the Soviet Union broke up.
Any team in the knockout stages of the World Cup is capable of pulling off a surprising result. And Russia will have the advantage of playing in their home nation with their fans on their side. They have the personnel to implement a style that can frustrate Spain, so it’s unlikely that the Spaniards will have an easy time. However, on paper, the 2010 champions do have a stronger and more talented lineup. If they can sort out their defense and keep up the goal scoring, then it would be hard not to predict a win for the Group B winners.
Spain 3-1 Russia
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