Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was Russia’s instant hero as he saved penalties by Koke and Iago Aspas in the shoot out (4-3) to end Spain’s World Cup and send the home nation into the quarter-finals.
The sides couldn’t be separated during two hours of football that finished 1-1 after a penalty by Artem Dzyuba (41’) following an unintentional handball by Gerard Pique brought Russia back on terms after an own goal by Sergey Ignashevich gave Spain the lead (12’).
It’s the cruellest way to lose a game yet alone be knocked out of a tournament that only comes around every four years and, for some players, just once a lifetime. There can only be one hero in penalty shoot-outs, a goalkeeper and so it proved. Russia converted all four of their kicks while Koke’s effort was within reach and at a comfortable height for Akinfeev.
Aspas took the fifth knowing that he had to convert and drove it down the middle. Akinfeev had dived to his right but stuck out a leg and the ball struck his boot and bounced away and the celebrations began.
Both coaches had surprised with some of the changes to their starting line ups.
Stanislav Cherchesov took a gamble changing formation to 5-3-2 and leaving out Russia’s top-scorer Villareal’s Denis Cheryshev and making four changes to the side that lost 0-3 to Uruguay.
Spain’s coach, Fernando Hierro, also made an unexpected change by leaving Andres Iniesta on the bench. Also out were Dani Carvajal and Thiago replaced by Nacho, Koke, Marco Asensio.
Spain went into the match as firm favourites and, as expected, dominated throughout the match.
They went ahead in the 12th minute and took the lead with a slice of fortune. Nacho was fouled on the right wing and Marco Asensio’s free-kick was sent over to the far post where Sergio Ramos battled for the ball with Ignashevich. As the Russian defender appeared to be try to hold back Spain’s captain the ball came off the back of his right heel and deflected past Igor Akinfeev.
Russia had lost their last game 0-3 to Uruguay but were still on a high after wins in their first two matches against Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Backed by a vociferous crowd of 78,011 they pushed forward and came close to levelling in the 36th minute. Roman Zobnin’s clever run on the edge of the area ended with a blocked shot that fell to Aleksandr Golovin but his right foot effort curled past the far post.
Three minutes before half-time the equaliser came. Fan favourite, Dzyuba, rose above Pique to meet a corner from the right and his header back across goal struck the Barcelona defender’s raised arm with Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers immediately pointing to the spot.
Dzyuba coolly sent David de Gea the wrong way for his third goal of the tournament.
Although Isco had impressed in midfield, Spain had produced few chances but in the added on time of the first half Diego Costa had two opportunities. The first was smothered by a defensive tackle with the second easily held by Akinfeev.