Spain fell to hosts Russia in the first penalty shootout of the 2018 World Cup. An own goal by Russia was cancelled out by a penalty conceded by Pique. After the 1-1 stalemate through extra time, Spain lost 4-3 on penalties due to misses by Koke and Aspas, granting Russia a trip to the quarterfinals.
Spain were on the front foot as usual, with their early efforts resulting in a 12th minute goal. After a hard foul committed by Russia on Nacho, the free kick delivery was swung into the box towards Ramos at the far post. The Spanish defender was in the process of being thrown to the ground by Ignashevich, but the ball miraculously bounced off the Russian and into the net. Talk about instant karma.
After the goal, Spain found it difficult to cope with Russia’s pressure. With a severe lack of penetration, Spain created almost no more chances for the rest of the first half.
Then, in the 40th minute, Russia were given a penalty after a corner delivery struck the outstretched hand of a jumping Pique. Dzuyba made no mistake from the spot, granting Russia a much-deserved equalizer after threatening Spain for much of the first half. However, the goal seemed to wake Spain up as they started to push for a goal again, going into halftime with a bit of momentum.
The momentum didn’t do much for Spain, though. The second half was much more even than the first, with both sides probing forward on attack. Spain regained some rhythm in possession but were still unable to penetrate while Russia had some promising counters through players like Golovin but lacked the passing ability to get through the midfield.
Despite some good subs from both sides, the match was destined for extra time.
It wasn’t until the 109th minute of extra time that a good chance for either team was created. A run from fourth sub Rodrigo forced a great save from Akinfeev, but the ball fell to Carvajal, whose shot was blocked.
The biggest controversial moment of the match happened in the 115th minute when Pique and Ramos were both held on a free kick. The referee and VAR both disagreed, however. And with that chance gone, the game went to penalties.
Iniesta stepped up first for Spain and slotted his penalty away with confidence. Smolov then scored his for Russia, followed by Pique and Ignashevich.
Then, Koke attempted his but Akinfeev went in the right direction and saved it. Golovin then dispatched his to give Russia the lead.
Ramos kept Spain alive by scoring his penalty with a slow run up. Cheryshev then sent his down the middle to score as well.
Finally for Spain was Iago Aspas, who took a long run up and kicked his down the middle. Akinfeev dove to his right but his hanging foot caught the ball kicked it away to grant Russia a tremendous knockout stage victory over title contenders Spain.
Spain were fortunate to score first after making use of their time on the ball, but they were unable to capitalize on the early lead. Russia used their superior physicality to make Spain very uncomfortable in possession, which had two benefits for the hosts. Not only were Spain’s chances limited, but Russia were also able to create their own from balls won off of the opposition.
Spain’s lack of creativity can also be attributed to their starting lineup choices. Nacho, Asensio, and Koke found their way into the team, but these players contributed very little to Spanish attacks. Asensio was too similar to Isco, Nacho too defensive, and Koke too passive. The inclusion of Iniesta, Carvajal, and Iago Aspas helped add directness to the team, which was a welcome change to Spain’s usual subpar substitutions.
On the other hand, Spain’s defense was far better in this game than it was against Morocco. Although they lost the ball too frequently for their own tastes, they limited Russia’s space on the counter, forcing the hosts to be impeccable with their passing. Any mistake was immediately pounced upon by the Spanish defenders. As a result, Spain rarely looked in danger of conceding a goal in regulation.
Man of the Match: Sergio Ramos
Ramos was absolutely massive in this game. His pace was instrumental in snuffing out Russia’s quick counters, and his physicality allowed him to win headers and hold his own against some of Russia’s strongest players.
Ramos also filled the role of a Spanish center back perfectly. He acted as a pivot in possession, swinging the ball from one side of the pitch to the other and picking out attacking players in space. At times, Spain’s possession looked static and devoid of creativity but Ramos was always looking to push the ball forward.
This game was a messy draw before penalties, but Ramos made sure it never got too out of hand for his team. They may have lost in the dice roll that is penalties, but Ramos made sure his team even made it there in the first place.
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