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Spain pays the penalty for failing to breach Russian defences
Russia’s progress to the World Cup quarter-final came against all expectation on Sunday night in Moscow following a penalty shoot-out at the Luzhniki Stadium.
The hosts claimed it 4-3 after Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev saved Iago Aspas’s spot kick. Minutes earlier he had palmed away Koke’s attempt. All four Russians had hit the target including 38-year old Sergei Ignashevich whose own goal had given Spain the lead after 12 minutes.
As an augur of what was to transpire nearly two hours later, Artem Dzyuba levelled for Russia just before half-time from the spot after referee Bjorn Kuipers sanctioned Gerard Piqué for handling the ball in the penalty area.
Dzyuba, chosen to lead the Russian line alone without his usual cohort Denis Cheryshev, sent Spain goalkeeper David de Gea the wrong way.
For the entire second half and the 30 minutes of extra-time, Spain passed and probed but could not find the breach in Russian defences.
"It wasn't open football on our part,” said Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov. “They are better than us in many ways so I didn't believe we should risk going forward. I think we chose the correct tactic."
The Russian obduracy was faced with Spanish stubbornness. They continued to keep the ball rather than risk crosses and open the game to chance.
Espousing precision was ultimately their undoing. "I'm not the man of the match, the man of the match is our team and our fans," said Akinfeev.
Russia were largely expected to just make up the numbers at their own tournament after entering the competition as they lowest ranked of the 32 teams at 70th in the world and following a seven match winless run.
But they launched the fest with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia on 14 June and followed that five days later with a 3-1 win over a much fancied Egypt team. Uruguay burst the euphoric bubble with a 3-0 win in the last match in Group A.
Russia will play Croatia in the quarter-final in Samara on 7 July after they went to penalties against Denmark. The match in Nizhny Novgorod ended 1-1 after extra-time. Croatia won the shoot-out 3-2 much to the relief of skipper Luka Modric who missed a penalty four minutes from the end of extra-time.
"I believe that the victory over Spain is only the beginning,” added Cherchesov. “So I have to save my emotions for the future. Against Spain we found the right place at the right time and we achieved the maximum we could.
"Now it's over and I'm thinking only about the next game. These are very simple and unsophisticated emotions."
Those two adjectives could easily describe Russia’s football. But they were effective against the Spaniards. The sons of toil have progressed and the aristocrats are out. Not without precedent in Russia.